Boris Johnson has hailed what he said was a mandate for his administration’s agenda after the Conservatives secured historic and landslide victories in elections in England.
Visiting Hartlepool to celebrate with new Tory MP Jill Mortimer, the first woman ever to represent the north-eastern seaside town, Mr Johnson said that the message of Thursday’s election was that voters wanted politicians to focus on their priorities, like delivering Brexit and rolling out coronavirus vaccines.
He claimed that EU withdrawal had enabled the government to take steps like approving a freeport in Teesside, controlling the UK’s borders, accelerating the vaccine programme and helping prevent the creation of a breakaway tournament by football’s elite clubs.
Labour’s choice of a remain-backing candidate has been identified as a key factor behind the defeat in Hartlepool, which had been red since the 1960s but voted 70 per cent for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
Meanwhile, the Tories secured a landslide victory in the Tees Valley mayoral contest, taking 73 per cent of the vote.
The result meant the Tories secured two of what has been described as a “hat-trick” of Conservative targets – Hartlepool, the West Midlands and Tees Valley.
After his victory mayor Ben Houchen paid tribute to Mr Johnson’s “levelling up” rhetoric and claimed there was “a pride returning” to the areas.
With results available from 50 out of 143 councils in England, the Conservatives also had a net gain of four authorities and 129 seats, while Labour had a net loss of three authorities and 130 seats.
The party was less rosy in Wales, however.
The Tories did take Vale of Clwyd from Labour, but elsewhere Sir Keir Starmer’s party appeared to have exceeded expectations in the Welsh Parliament elections.
Speaking alongside Ms Mortimer on Hartlepool’s quayside, Mr Johnson said the result – which saw a Labour majority of 3,595 in 2019 converted into an overwhelming 6,940 advantage for Tories – represented “a mandate for us to continue to deliver, not just for the people of Hartlepool and the fantastic people of the north east, but for the whole of the country”.
He said: “If there is a lesson out of this whole election campaign across the whole of the UK, it is that the public want us to get on with focusing on their needs and their priorities, coming through the pandemic and making sure we build back better.”
And he added: “What has happened is that they can see we did get Brexit done and, to a certain extent, they can see that we delivered on that.
“What people want us to do now is to get on with delivering on everything else.
“Number one is continuing the vaccine rollout, making sure that we go from jab, jab, jab to jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Mr Johnson said the government has embarked on a “massive project” of “uniting and levelling up” the country.
“Every government has tried it to some extent but I don’t think any government has tried it as wholeheartedly as this government is trying,” he said.
He added: “This is a place that voted for Brexit. We got Brexit done and then we are able to do other things thanks to that.
“It’s thanks to Brexit that we have been able to go ahead with the freeport in the whole of Teesside, do things like take back control of our borders.
“We are able to deal with things like the European Super League and, of course, we are able to do things a bit differently when it comes to the vaccine rollout that has been so important and enabled (us) to deliver that faster than other European countries.”