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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party was on track to an enormous majority in Parliament in Britain’s general election, according to initial exit polls Thursday — a result that almost certainly would secure Britain’s departure from the E.U. and likely doom opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The broadcaster’s exit poll, released after Brits finished voting, predicted that Johnson’s Conservative Party would win 368 seats in the country’s 650-seat lower chamber, while Labour would pick up just 191 seats. If accurate, it would hand the Tories a majority of 86. Tory activists had hoped, in their most optimistic predictions, for a majority of about 30.
“Thank you to everyone across our great country who voted, who volunteered, who stood as candidates,” Johnson tweeted. “We live in the greatest democracy in the world.”
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Such a defeat would be “extremely disappointing,” Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, a member of the Labour Party, told Sky News, blaming the result in part on “Brexit fatigue.”
Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats were expected to get 13 seats and the Scottish National Party was predicted to pick up 55 seats. The poll said the Green Party would win a single seat, while Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was not predicted to win a seat.
Johnson had called an early election to break the deadlock over Brexit, asking the British public to give him a majority so he could get his deal — negotiated with the E.U. — through the chamber, where it previously had been rejected. His message to voters tired of the drama since the 2016 referendum was simple: “Get Brexit done.”
He faced off against Corbyn’s Labour Party, which had struggled to lay out a clear vision for Brexit, backing a possible second referendum while also promising to get a new deal with the E.U. — but with Corbyn not committing to supporting that eventual deal.
The Tories had gambled that they could make headway in traditional Labour strongholds that had voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in 2016, and would therefore shift to the Conservatives in order to secure that departure from the E.U. If the poll is accurate, it would mean once-safe Labour seats in places such as Wrexham, Bolsover and Hartlepool could turn Conservative blue.
Playing into that as well was the Labour Party’s far-left turn under Corbyn’s leadership. Corbyn, who had been on the fringe of the party for decades, won the leadership in 2015 and had rejected the more centrist shift the party had taken under former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
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He also had raised concerns, from both inside and outside his party, about a rise in anti-Semitism within Labour since he took power. While Corbyn apologized for anti-Semitism and promised to deal with it, it was something that dogged him throughout the election.
But, while commentators had long predicted electoral doom for a Corbyn-run Labour Party since 2015, the party ran a close race when he faced off against then-Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017 — slashing her majority and forcing May to form a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party. May resigned earlier this year after being unable to get her own Brexit deal through.
That 2017 result led to hopes by Labour that Corbyn could tap into a populist left-wing groundswell in the country, but those hopes appeared to be dashed by Thursday’s exit poll.
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Should the Tories manage to break the “red wall” across the country and secure the seats as predicted, it would lead to Conservative Party dominance in the U.K. not seen since the days of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — who won 397 seats in the 1983 general election against radical Labour leader Michael Foot.
It also likely would doom Corbyn’s leadership of the party. While he has relied on a significant left-wing activist base of support that has shielded him from other challengers within the party, a colossal defeat of the kind predicted in the poll would lead to significant pressure on him to step down Friday morning.
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