Johnson takes victory lap in traditional Labour areas that powered crushing win
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Johnson takes victory lap in traditional Labour areas that powered crushing win

In northern England, PM promises to repay voters’ trust, as Corbyn feels further heat from inside his party over drubbing at the polls

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures after pulling a pint with newly elected Conservative party MP for Sedgefield, Paul Howell, at Sedgefield Cricket Club in County Durham, north east England on December 14, 2019, following his Conservative party's general election victory.  (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / POOL / AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures after pulling a pint with newly elected Conservative party MP for Sedgefield, Paul Howell, at Sedgefield Cricket Club in County Durham, north east England on December 14, 2019, following his Conservative party's general election victory. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / POOL / AFP)

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited northern England on Saturday to thank voters and newly elected Conservative Party lawmakers in the working class heartland that turned its back on the opposition Labour Party in this week’s election and helped give him an 80-seat majority.

Speaking in Sedgefield — the constituency once held by Labour former prime minister Tony Blair — Johnson acknowledged the seismic shift that helped sweep him to victory in Thursday’s election.

“I know that people may have been breaking the voting habits of generations to vote for us,” he told supporters. “And I want the people of the northeast to know that we in the Conservative Party and I will repay your trust.”

In a victory speech outside 10 Downing Street on Friday, Johnson called for an end to the acrimony that has festered throughout the country since the divisive 2016 Brexit referendum, and urged Britain to “let the healing begin.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is cheered by supporters on a visit to meet newly elected Conservative party MP for Sedgefield, Paul Howell, at Sedgefield Cricket Club in County Durham, north east England on December 14, 2019, following his Conservative party’s general election victory. (Lindsey Parnaby / POOL / AFP)

Johnson’s campaign mantra to “get Brexit done” and widespread unease with the leadership style and socialist policies of opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn combined to give the ruling Conservatives 365 seats in the House of Commons, its best performance since party icon Margaret Thatcher’s last victory in 1987. Labour slumped to 203 seats, its worst showing since 1935.

While Johnson was on a victory lap Saturday, Corbyn — who has pledged to stand down next year — was under fire from within his own party.

Newspapers sit on display for sale with their front pages reporting on the general election in a supermarket in south west London, December 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Former lawmaker Helen Goodman, one of many Labour legislators to lose their seat in northern England, told BBC radio that “the biggest factor was obviously the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader.”

British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during the declaration of his seat in the 2019 general election in Islington, London, December 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Another former Labour lawmaker criticized the election campaign more broadly as muddled. Anna Turley told the BBC that the party put forward an overwhelming number of policies and voters “just didn’t believe we were the party that could deliver on any of it.”

Armed with his hefty new majority, Johnson is set to start the process next week of pushing Brexit legislation through Parliament to ensure Britain leaves the EU by the January 31 deadline. Once he’s passed that hurdle — breaking three years of parliamentary deadlock — he has to seal a trade deal with the bloc by the end of 2020.

“We’ve just been going over the timetable we can definitely get it in before Christmas, and we’re out on Jan. 31,” Johnson said.

While Johnson’s large majority means he has relatively clear air ahead on Brexit, he faces turbulence over renewed calls for a referendum on Scottish independence following the strong election showing of the Scottish National Party.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks to supporters during a visit to meet newly elected Conservative party lawmakers at Sedgefield Cricket Club in County Durham, north east England on Saturday Dec. 14, 2019, following his Conservative party’s general election victory (Lindsey Parnaby / Pool via AP)

The front page of Saturday’s edition of The Scotsman newspaper featured photos of Johnson and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon and the headline: “Two landslides One collision course.”

Johnson owes his success, in part, to traditionally Labour-voting working class constituencies in northern England that backed the Conservatives because of the party’s promise to deliver Brexit. During the 2016 referendum, many of those communities voted to leave the EU because of concerns that immigrants were taking their jobs and neglect by the central government in London.

In Sedgefield, he paid tribute to his new lawmakers who turned those concerns into a big election victory.

“Thank you for your wonderful achievement in transforming our party, transforming the political map of this country,” he said.

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