Leading Conservative Party minister Michael Gove on Friday said that after the victory of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives and the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the election, Britain’s Jewish community should “never have to live in fear again.”
“I want to say something to a very special group of people, our Jewish friends and neighbors,” Gove said in a speech at a victory rally in London.
“You have had to live in fear for months now with concerns we will have a prime minister who trafficked in anti-Jewish rhetoric and embraced anti-Jewish terrorists. You should never have to live in fear again,” Gove said. “Today we celebrate a victory for the British people. They comprehensively rejected Jeremy Corbyn’s politics.”
Labour was heading to its worst result since 1935, losing 59 seats to 203, after what Corbyn admitted had been a “very disappointing night.”
He said he would be stepping down after a period of “reflection,” and would not be leading the party into the next election, which is due by 2024.
Corbyn is personally unpopular and dogged by accusations of sympathizing with proscribed terror groups and failing to tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.
Ahead of the elections, many British Jews said the vote was particularly fateful for them because they believe that the Labour Party has become institutionally anti-Semitic under Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian politician who was elected to lead the party in 2015.
Corbyn has been accused of failing to deal with incidents of anti-Semitism within his party, as well as his reluctance for the party to agree to a definition of anti-Semitism that included some anti-Israel language.
His ties to members of the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups and photos of him laying a wreath at the grave of a Palestinian terrorist also sparked worries among UK Jews and Israelis, who feared that the Jewish state could lose its close alliance with the UK if Corbyn won.
Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who faced anti-Semitism from party members, lost her Stoke-on-Trent North seat and blamed Corbyn for Labour’s election defeat.
“This is an appalling, heartbreaking night for the Labour Party. He should have gone many, many, many months ago,” she told Sky News. “Jeremy Corbyn’s actions on anti-Semitism have made us the nasty party. We are the racist party.”
Dame Margaret Hodge, who won re-election in her Barking seat, said she was the only one remaining of the four Jewish women who served as Labour lawmakers and took on the party leadership over anti-Semitism.
“A year ago I was one of four strong, hardworking Jewish women serving in the Labour Party as MPs,” she said, according to the Jewish Chronicle. “Today as I wake up, I’m the last one standing. Two were driven out of the party,” she said, referring to Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman who both quit the party over anti-Semitism. “The third one, Ruth Smeeth, who has fought valiantly, lost her seat last night.
“And I think that in itself says a lot about what the party felt in relation to its attitude to Jews and therefore the nastiness which the party has become,” Hodge said.
Gove spoke ahead of Johnson at the rally on Friday, where the British prime minister hailed a political “earthquake” after a thumping election victory which clears the way for the country to finally leave the EU next month after years of paralyzing deadlock.
With all but one result declared for the 650-seat parliament, Johnson’s Conservative party secured 364 seats — its biggest majority since the heyday of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
Condemning more than three years of political wrangling over Brexit, Johnson vowed in his victory speech on Friday to “put an end to all that nonsense” and “get Brexit done on time by January 31, no ifs, no buts.”
With such a large majority of MPs, Johnson will be able to get the divorce deal he struck with Brussels through parliament in time to meet the January 31 deadline.
Ratifying the deal would formalize the end of almost five decades of EU-UK integration, although both sides still need to thrash out a new trade and security agreement.
EU Council President Charles Michel said the bloc was set for talks but would do its utmost to protect European priorities.
“My point is very clear: we are ready. We have decided what are our priorities,” Michel said as he arrived at an EU summit where leaders would discuss the aftermath of the UK vote.
The result of Thursday’s election — the third in almost five years — signals a personal victory for Johnson, a former London mayor and foreign minister who helped lead the Brexit campaign to victory in the 2016 EU referendum.
US President Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations on a “great WIN!” and said London and Washington would be able to strike a “massive new trade deal” after Brexit.
“This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the EU Celebrate Boris!” he said.
Taking the north
The Conservatives had been ahead in opinion polls for weeks but the scale of their victory, after a wet and windy pre-Christmas election, was unexpected.
The party took a string of traditionally Labour seats that had not voted Tory for decades, but many of which had backed “Leave” in 2016.
“We must understand now what an earthquake we have created,” Johnson later told party staff, according to the Press Association news agency.
He earlier declared when he was re-elected as an MP that voters had given him “a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done.”
Johnson now has up to five years to govern until he is obliged to call another election.
The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats did poorly and announced they would replace Jo Swinson as leader after she lost her seat in western Scotland to the Scottish National Party (SNP).
The Lib Dems were predicted to win 11 seats, down one on the last election in 2017.
Analysts said Swinson’s campaign to reverse Brexit without even a new referendum was unpopular, while efforts to create a “Remain” alliance to stop Brexit failed.
By contrast the Scottish National Party (SNP), which wants to stop Brexit and deliver an independent Scotland, gained 13 seats to reach 48.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party failed to win any seats, but he claimed to have helped Johnson standing down his own candidates in Tory-held seats.
Johnson has promised to put his Brexit plan to parliament before the Christmas break, although it will not likely be ratified until January.
He has then just 11 months to agree a new partnership with the EU before a post-Brexit transition period ends in December 2020.
But with a comfortable majority in parliament, analysts note he could choose to extend that time and negotiate a closer trade deal than previously envisaged.
“Ironically, this is a freer hand for Johnson to negotiate a softer version of Brexit,” said Simon Hix of the London School of Economics.