Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson pledge to work together to restore powersharing

Conservatives secure 80-seat majority in UK election following Labour collapse

British prime minister Boris Johnson says that his government has been given a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done. Video: Reuters

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Boris Johnson have pledged to work together with the Northern Irish parties to restore the Assembly.

Mr Varadkar congratulated Mr Johnson in a phone call on Friday evening after his Conservative Party secured an 80-seat House of Commons majority in Thursday’s UK general election.

A Government statement said the leaders agreed “there is now a significant opportunity to restore the Good Friday Agreement institutions, and pledged to work with the Northern Ireland parties to achieve this.”

“They also discussed how to strengthen the bilateral relationship between Ireland and the UK.

“Both looked forward to the smooth passage of the withdrawal agreement.”

Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party won 365 seats while Labour suffered catastrophic losses, taking just 203 seats as voters backed the prime minister’s promise to “get Brexit done”.

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech outside 10 Downing Street following his Conservative Party’s general election victory. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images
Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech outside 10 Downing Street following his Conservative Party’s general election victory. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Johnson said he had an “overwhelming mandate” to take the UK out of the EU by the end of January.

“I frankly urge everyone on either side of what are, after 3½ years, increasingly arid argument, I urge everyone to find closure and to let the healing begin.”

He added that “the overwhelming priority of the British people is that we should focus, above all, on the NHS”.

Read Fintan O’Toole’s column on Johnson’s victory

Northern Ireland has returned more nationalists than unionists for the first time after Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader Nigel Dodds lost his seat to Sinn Féin’s John Finucane.

The DUP won eight seats, but Sinn Féin won seven and the SDLP won two, with the Alliance winning a seat in North Down. The DUP lost two seats and its crucial influencing role supporting the Tory government.

The final seat of the 18 to declare was Fermanagh/South Tyrone where Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew held the seat by 57 votes from Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson lost her seat in East Dumbartonshire, and her party has won 11 seats, just one more than in 2017.

Ms Swinson was the most high-profile casualty of the night and Sir Ed Davey and president Baroness Sal Brinton were appointed as joint leaders ahead of a leadership election next year.

Apart from the Conservatives, the Scottish National Party (SNP) were the other clear winners, with 48 seats and a large majority in Scotland.

The Conservatives won 44 per cent of the vote, its biggest share in a general election since 1970, with Labour on 32 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 12 per cent.

‘Bitter disappointment’

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would not lead the party into the next election but would stay on during a period of reflection following the loss of 59 seats. A number of Labour MPs called on him to leave without delay, blaming his leadership rather than Brexit for the party’s worst performance in decades.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said she felt distraught at the “bitter disappointment” of the result.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was hugely disappointed but rejected any suggestion that her leadership was under threat. “It was very clear in both North Belfast and South Belfast that nationalism came together and decided they were going to get rid of Emma [Little-Pengelly] and Nigel [Dodds],” she said.

She said while there might be more nationalist MPs than unionists, more votes were cast overall for pro-union parties. “If you look at the votes you will find the greater number of people in Northern Ireland still want to remain within the UK – that to me is a very important point,” she said.

Read Gerry Moriarty’s article on how the voters sent a message about powersharing

Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty
Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said her party’s success had sent a message to Westminster that Scotland must be allowed to hold a second independence referendum.

She said the Scottish government will next week publish the “detailed democratic case” for a transfer of power to enable a second referendum on Scottish independence. “This is not about asking Boris Johnson or any other Westminster politician for permission,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Such a referendum must be authorised by Westminster as well as the Scottish parliament in Holyrood, but Mr Johnson has ruled out approving it.

“I reluctantly accept that Boris Johnson now has a mandate to take Britain out of the EU, but he must accept that I have a mandate to offer Scotland the choice of an alternative future. Boris Johnson has no right to take Scotland out of the EU or block the Scottish people choosing their own future.”

Irish reaction

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was “relieved” at the results of the UK election. “I deeply regret that the United Kingdom, our friends, are leaving the EU, but that’s their decision and they’ve confirmed that now with this election.

“It’s a positive thing that we have a decisive outcome in Britain in their elections,” he said.

“We had for a few years a parliament that wasn’t able to form a majority around anything. We now clearly have a majority in the House of Commons to ratify the withdrawal agreement.”

Read Cliff Taylor’s piece on what the Conservative win will mean for Brexit and Ireland

Mr Varadkar said the results were “very significant” in Northern Ireland and said his focus until mid-January will be on getting Stormont up and running.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney congratulated Mr Johnson on his victory in a tweet, saying: “The Irish government and my department now stand ready to seize the momentum and focus on getting Stormont up and running for all the people and parties in Northern Ireland.”

The European Union’s 27 national leaders agreed at a summit on Friday to move to trade talks with Britain after the “ratification and effective implementation” of the Brexit deal, diplomatic sources said.

European Council president Charles Michel congratulated Mr Johnson, adding: “We expect a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement as soon as possible. “[The] EU is ready for the next phase. We will negotiate a future trade deal which ensures a true level playing field.”

Read Europe Editor Patrick Smyth’s piece on the EU preparations for relationship talks with the UK post-Brexit.

US president Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations, adding that the UK and US will “now be free to strike a massive new trade deal after Brexit”.

You can read about all the events as they unfolded, on our liveblog.

The pound

The pound hit multi-year highs on Friday after the win, while almost €1.2 billion was added to the market value of Ireland’s two biggest banks . – Additional reporting from PA/Reuters