Boris Johnson has dismissed the SNP’s landslide victory in Scotland and said he will not allow a second independence referendum, as he welcomed a historic Conservative majority with a call to “let the healing begin”.
In a telephone call with Nicola Sturgeon last night, the Prime Minister said the 2014 independence vote was “decisive and should be respected”, setting two overwhelming democratic mandates on a collision course.
Speaking in Downing Street after securing the biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 victory, Mr Johnson reached out to voters who had backed the Tories across Labour’s traditional heartlands for the first time.
He pledged to put the NHS at the heart of a programme of investment and renewal, and told Remainers his “one-nation” government would respect their feelings of “warmth and sympathy” towards Europe.
But he asserted an “overwhelming mandate” to take the UK out of the EU at the end of January, with legislation to be introduced to parliament within a week.
Labour was plunged into chaos after its worst result in almost a century, with leader Jeremy Corbyn announcing he would stand down but defying calls to quit immediately.
The Liberal Democrats also lost their leader as the SNP swept Scotland for a second time in four years, winning 48 out of 59 constituencies.
The First Minister said the nationalist landslide “renews, reinforces and strengthens” the case for indyref2 and said she would publish a formal case next week for legal powers to hold a second independence referendum.
After winning a majority of 80, Mr Johnson said it was time for a “permanent break” on the issue of Brexit, and moved to cement unprecedented gains that gave parts of the north of England and Midlands their first ever Tory MPs.
They include constituencies such as Leigh, Blyth Valley and Sedgefield – once held by Tony Blair. Mr Johnson is expected to travel north today to visit one of the seats gained by the Tories.
His majority was sealed at three minutes to five in the morning, when veteran Labour firebrand Dennis Skinner was ousted from his Derbyshire seat of Bolsover after 49 years.
“Those people want change,” Mr Johnson told cheering Tory activists at a dawn victory rally near Westminster. “We cannot, must not, must not, let them down. And in delivering change, we must change too.”
After meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace and being applauded into Number 10 by staff, he re-emerged in Downing Street to drive home the message of unity.
“To all those who voted for us for the first time, all those whose pencils may have wavered over the ballot and who heard the voices of their parents and their grandparents whispering anxiously in their ears, I say, ‘Thank you for the trust you have placed in us and in me’,” he said.
Earlier he had taken a swipe at protesters who have gathered outside parliament for the past three years to demand a second referendum on the EU, telling them: “Time to put a sock in the megaphone”.
Outside Number 10, he struck a different tone, saying: “I frankly urge everyone on either side of what was, after three-and-a-half years, after all an increasingly arid argument, to find closure and to let the healing begin.”
The official People’s Vote confirmed the end of the fight for a second EU referendum, announcing it would rebrand to push for a “fair deal for Britain” in trade talks with the EU.
The election left Labour with just 203 MPs, a net loss of 42, the SNP on 48, a gain of 13, and the Liberal Democrats on 11, a loss of 10.
Mr Corbyn said he was “very sad” at the result but defended his party’s manifesto, insisting he took “pride” in its policies.
But he came under attack from all sides of his party. Former home secretary Alan Johnson said Mr Corbyn “couldn’t lead the working class out of a paper bag”, adding that “the Corbynistas will make an argument that victory is a bourgeois concept”.
Unite union boss Len McCluskey claimed Labour had put out an “incontinent” stream of policies.
Last night, after his telephone talks with Ms Sturgeon, a Downing Street spokesman said the PM had “reiterated his unwavering commitment to strengthening the Union.
“The Prime Minister made clear how he remained opposed to a second independence referendum, standing with the majority of people in Scotland who do not want to return to division and uncertainty. He added how the result of the 2014 referendum was decisive and should be respected.”
Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “I made clear that the SNP mandate to give people a choice must be respected – just as he expects his mandate to be respected.”