Pro-EU campaigners in Britain appear to have lost their bid to persuade the public to stay in the bloc, after indications of a crushing general election victory for the ruling party.
An exit poll after voting ended on Thursday night suggested a large majority for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, allowing him to push through his Brexit deal.
“With a majority, Boris Johnson will now be able to pass his Withdrawal Agreement Bill and formalize Brexit,” said Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Kent.
“The battle for Brexit is over.”
Final results are expected on Friday and if confirmed, will set Britain on course to leave the EU by the end of January next year.
That will come as a blow to the smaller Liberal Democrats, who led the charge of the “remainers” against Brexit but whose message appears to have fallen flat with voters.
The exit poll suggested Johnson’s Tories would win 368 seats in the 650-seat parliament, with the main opposition Labor party at 191, and the Scottish National Party at 55.
The Lib Dems, led by Jo Swinson, would win 13 seats, according to the poll – one more than they won last time around in 2017.
Experts said the party’s pledge to cancel Brexit altogether without a vote if it was elected was unpopular. Even some pro-EU supporters believed it was undemocratic.
“I do think the ‘revoke Article 50’ was a disaster,” said Simon Hix, a political scientist at the London School of Economics.
“They already had all the hardcore remainers, they weren’t going to get any more.”
He added that Swinson “completely alienated Remain Tories…. A lot of those reluctant remainer Tories have gone and voted for Johnson.”
Labor, which was criticized for a non-committal position on Brexit, appeared to offer no alternative, particularly with its leader Jeremy Corbyn such a divisive figure.
The party offered to renegotiate Brexit with Brussels and put its deal to a public vote alongside an option to remain.
But Corbyn said he would remain neutral, while wider criticism about his leadership, particularly over claims of anti-Semitism in Labor, appear to have been a turn-off.
Corbyn on Friday said he would not lead the party at the next general election.
“I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign,” the veteran socialist, 70, said after winning his north London seat for the 10th time.
Corbyn went into Thursday’s election offering a radical leftist programme for social change, including huge investment in public services, as well as a second referendum on Brexit.
An exit poll forecast Labor would lose 52 seats to secure 191 in the 650-seat parliament — the party’s poorest result since 1935.
‘Remain’ to ‘Re-join’
Tony Travers, from the department of government at the London School of Economics, attributed the failure of “remain” to a split in the vote between opposition parties.
Instead, Johnson’s Tories had the bulk of the Leave vote, he told AFP.
“The pro-Brexit Leave vote was always a bit more determined than the Remain vote. The Leave vote just wanted to go, didn’t like the EU. That’s played itself out again tonight.
“In the end, the Leave vote is more solid and more committed.”
If the exit poll is confirmed, Johnson – who campaigned largely on a pledge to “Get Brexit Done” – is likely to issue a call for unity after more than three years of deadlock.
British politics has become increasingly polarized since the 2016 referendum that saw 52 percent vote to leave the EU.
Determined pro-Remain supporters, who are well-represented in the media and the political establishment, are likely to continue their campaign – but for Britain to rejoin the EU.
“The campaign for a second referendum is as dead as a doornail,” said Travers.
“‘Remain’ will be forced to evolve into ‘Re-Join,’” added Goodwin, but he warned that was “a much harder, longer and even generational struggle.”