Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Thus Winston Churchill in 1942, on the battle of El Alamein. And so today brings to an end, not just the beginning but the whole first phase of the great Brexit saga.
The saga itself has many years to run. There will be trade negotiations; there will be brinkmanship on both sides; there will most probably, one day, be a referendum on an attempt to rejoin. Boris Johnson’s claim that a line could now be drawn under the whole sorry tale is, like much of what he says, a lie.
But this first phase, in which the question was “Will Britain actually leave the European Union?”, is indeed over. The answer is “yes”. Johnson has won his mandate for Brexit, and the country will leave on 31 January or before.
The exit poll shows the Conservatives on track to win 368 seats, a gain of 51 from their 2017 result and a majority of 86 against all comers. It puts Labour on 191 (down 71), Scottish Nationalists 55 (up 20), Liberal Democrats 13 (up one) and 23 for the rest, most of them the Northern Irish parties.
It’s just a poll, not actual results; the final totals will be a bit different. But exit polls in Britain are pretty accurate (the last one was almost spot on), and it’s completely consistent with the few results that have come in so far. (You can follow them at the BBC or on the Guardian’s live blog.) Certainly the differences won’t be enough to change the basic picture.
As to what it all means, that will have to wait until we know just where the parties have gained and lost, and what relationship the seat totals bear to their actual support. I’ll try to do some analysis for Monday. We can already be quite sure, however, that the Conservative majority has been won with a great deal less than a majority of the vote.
Electoral reform, of course, will now be firmly off the table for another five years. In the difficult times ahead, it’s probably not what Britons will be most worrying about. But perhaps they should.