Johnson toured a leftist bastion once represented by former Labour leader Tony Blair in a bid to show his intent to unite country after years of divisions over Brexit.
The northeastern region fell to the Tories in a general election Thursday that turned into a re-run of the 2016 EU membership referendum in which Johnson championed the Brexit cause.
Johnson told cheering campaigners that he understood how difficult it was for traditional Labour voters to switch sides and back his right-wing government in Britain’s biggest election in generations. “I can imagine people’s pencil’s hovering over the ballot paper and wavering before coming down for us and the Conservatives,” he said. “And I want the people of the northeast to know that we in the Conservative party — and I — will repay your trust.”
The working class north of England dropped its traditional support for Labour and relegated the century-old party to its worst finish since the 1930s. Johnson now commands an 80-vote majority in the 650-seat House of Commons — a margin last enjoyed by the late Tory icon Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
The lead assures Johnson a safe passage of his divorce deal with the European Union when he re-submits it to parliament next week. This would assure that Britain formally leaves the other 27 EU nations by the January 31 deadline set by Brussels. The sides would then set off on the tricky task of trying to reach a brand new comprehensive trade agreement by the end of 2020.
Failure to meet that deadline — which Johnson has repeatedly vowed not to extend — would have unknown repercussions for global markets and economic growth. But Johnson said his government’s main focus after the first stage of Brexit was completed would be on bread-and-butter issues important to Labour voters.
“It is getting Brexit done but it is also delivering on our National Health Service, our education, safer streets, better hospitals, a better future for our country,” he said. “We are going to recover our national self-confidence, our mojo, our self-belief.”