2019: How the “Brexit Elections” Were Won

The 2019 general election delivered the first substantial Tory majority since 1987. Boris Johnson joins the select group of half a dozen postwar prime ministers who won majorities of 75 or more seats in the general election. Only Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher in their splendor have won larger majorities over the past 50 years. Much was at stake in the 2019 election, which makes this landmark result historically significant. The competition ended three years of heated debate over Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and provided a final opportunity for the British public to confirm or reject the referendum mandate issued three years earlier.

By restoring the first significant parliamentary majority to the Conservative Party in a generation, British voters have assured that their Prime Minister “will do Brexit well” and thus put the country on a new path. But the implications of the election extended beyond the high politics of the Brexit negotiations. The new Conservative majority was the culmination of an unprecedented two-decade breakthrough that reshaped the party’s electoral coalition. The Conservative Party has increased its vote in every election since 1997, including three consecutive elections as the outgoing government, a feat unprecedented in modern political history.

By the time Johnson entered Downing Street in July 2019, Brexit had already ended the political careers of two prime ministers. The defeat in the 2016 referendum marked the end of David Cameron, who tried unsuccessfully to reform and renew the status quo. The search process for the exit overtook Cameron’s successor Theresa May, who initially failed to secure the large majority in the Commons that she deemed necessary to complete the Brexit process, and then failed succeeded in adapting to the resulting more constrained political context.

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