Boris Johnson is on course to secure a thumping Conservative majority, immediately sparking fierce recriminations within Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
Both major parties were shocked by a 10pm exit poll, which suggested the Conservatives would win a decisive majority. That was borne out through the night, as seat after seat in Labour heartlands turned blue.
The result appeared to mark a dramatic repudiation of Corbyn’s offer of “real change” for Britain.
The Labour leader said at his Islington North count that he would not lead his party into another general election, but would remain in place during what he called a “period of reflection”.
He insisted Labour’s manifesto had been “extremely popular”; but that it had been overshadowed by Brexit.
A string of seats across Labour’s so-called “red wall” were seized by the Tories. Darlington in County Durham and Workington in Cumbria fell to the Conservatives, as did the former mining constituency of Blyth Valley, in Northumberland, which had beenheld by Labour since its creation and was No 116 on the Tory target list.
There was also a significant redrawing of the electoral map in Scotland, with the Lib Dem leader, Jo Swinson, losing her East Dunbartonshire seat, as the SNP made significant gains.
The party’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, said the result, which also saw it take seats from Labour, meant the prime minister “must accept that I have a mandate to offer Scotland the choice of an alternative future”.
Johnson, speaking at his own count in Uxbridge, said: “This one-nation Conservative government has been given a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done – and not just to get Brexit done but to unite this country and to take it forward.”
He is now expected to push his Brexit deal through parliament, with a second reading before Christmas – exploiting his new-found freedom to operate without the support of the DUP and the ERG.
As the scale of the defeat began to sink in, staunch Corbyn loyalists were quick to blame Brexit for the party’s performance – while others pointed the finger at the leader’s personal unpopularity.
The former Labour cabinet minister Alan Johnson said: “It’s Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn was a disaster for Labour – everyone knew that he couldn’t lead the working class out of a paper bag.”
Appearing with Jon Lansman, the founder of the pro-Labour group Momentum, on ITV, Johnson said: “I want this cult out of the party. I want Momentum gone”.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell appeared pale and shocked when confronted with the poll on the BBC. Asked whether he and Corbyn would stand down if it proved accurate, he said: “We will see the results in the morning and decisions will be made then.”
There were few bright spots for Labour, but in a rare gain the party took Putney, a remain-voting seat in a wealthy part of the capital.
The exit poll was updated as the night went on, and by 4am was projecting that Labour would be left with 201 seats, against 357 for the Tories.