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Johnson tries to shake off rocky start as UK election begins

Updated: 2019-11-07 09:51
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during an event launching the Conservative Party's general election campaign in Birmingham, Britain, Nov 6, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson told British voters Wednesday that they have to back his Conservatives if they want an end to Brexit delays, as he tried to shake off a rocky start to the governing party's election campaign.

Speaking outside his No 10 Downing St. office on the first official day of Britain's five-week campaign, Johnson said the political impasse over Britain's departure from the European Union made him want to "chew my own tie in frustration". 

"I don't want an early election, and no one much wants to have an election in December, but we have got to the stage where we have no choice," he said.

Johnson, trying to set the stage for a people-versus-Parliament campaign, said lawmakers were "refusing time and again to deliver Brexit and honor the result of the referendum".

In fact, lawmakers approved Johnson's EU divorce deal in principle last month, but asked for more time to scrutinize it. Johnson then withdrew the bill and pushed for an early election instead.

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs in the Dec 12 election, which is coming more than two years early. Some 46 million British voters are eligible to take part in the country's first December election in 96 years.

Johnson urged voters to deliver a Conservative majority so Britain could "put uncertainty behind us". With that support, Johnson vowed he would get Parliament to ratify his Brexit deal and the country would leave the EU as scheduled on Jan 31.

Brexit was supposed to happen on Oct 31, but with Britain's politicians deadlocked, the bloc granted the UK a three-month delay.

While unofficial campaigning has been ramping up for weeks, the campaign formally began when Parliament was dissolved Wednesday. Johnson went to Buckingham Palace to notify Queen Elizabeth II of the dissolution before unveiling the party's election slogan — "Get Brexit done and unleash Britain's potential" — at a rally in the central England city of Birmingham.

The Conservative campaign has had a bumpy start. Just minutes before Johnson spoke Wednesday, Cabinet Minister Alun Cairns resigned over allegations about a former aide's role in a rape trial.

Cairns said he was quitting as Welsh secretary because of "speculation" surrounding the "very sensitive matter," which is under investigation. He said he was confident he would be cleared of wrongdoing.

Cairns denies allegations that he knew his former staffer Ross England made claims about a victim's sexual history when he was a witness in a 2018 rape trial. That is not allowed, and the trial collapsed. The judge accused England of deliberately sabotaging the trial. Cairns later endorsed England as a candidate for an upcoming Welsh Assembly election.

On Tuesday, another Conservative, outgoing House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, was forced to apologize for suggesting that the victims of a 2017 London apartment block inferno that killed 72 people lacked common sense for following fire department advice to wait in their apartments for help.

The comments drew sharp rebukes from opposition politicians — and from rap star Stormzy, who urged the Conservative lawmaker to resign and tweeted: "These politicians are actual aliens".

The Labour Party has its own woes, with many of the party's lawmakers uneasy about Corbyn's firm left-wing views and ambivalence over the EU. On Wednesday, deputy leader Tom Watson, who has often clashed with Corbyn, announced that he was stepping down from politics.

Watson acknowledged his "political differences" with Corbyn in a resignation letter but said the decision was personal rather than political.

Labour wants to shift the election debate away from Brexit and onto domestic issues such as health care, the environment and social welfare, saying it will reverse Britain's increasing social inequality.

Corbyn has labelled Johnson's economic plans "Thatcherism on steroids," in reference to the free-market, low-spending ideology of the late former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

"I don't do personal attacks," Corbyn told supporters in Telford, central England. He said, if elected, he would be "a very different kind of prime minister."

"I was not born to rule," Corbyn said, contrasting himself with the affluent, Oxford University-educated Johnson. "I don't pursue the kind of politics that thinks it's all a game, a parlor game, a debating society game."

AP

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