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Amid Chaos, UK Labour Party Rejects Campaign to Remain in EU

The 119-year-old party's annual congress turned into a showdown between its irreconcilably splintered pro- and anti-Brexit wings.


Updated:September 24, 2019, 8:53 AM IST
Amid Chaos, UK Labour Party Rejects Campaign to Remain in EU
File photo of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Brighton: Britain's opposition Labour Party descended into chaos on Monday as it narrowly rejected a grass-roots attempt to force leader Jeremy Corbyn to campaign to remain in the European Union and reverse the outcome of the 2016 Brexit vote.

The 119-year-old party's annual congress turned into a showdown between its irreconcilably splintered pro- and anti-Brexit wings.

Opinion polls show Corbyn's efforts to unite the two by either delaying a decision on departure or putting it in hands of voters in a likely early election have led to a dramatic drop in support.

But a motion to force the party to "campaign energetically for a public vote and to stay in the EU in that referendum" was lost in a show-of-hands vote that appeared too close to call, to many watching in the hall.

"In my view, it was carried," congress chair Wendy Nicholls announced after surveying the hands of 1,200 delegates packed into hall in the English south coast resort city of Brighton.

"No, sorry, it was lost," she corrected herself a moment later.

Nicholls dismissed pleas from one pro-EU delegate who jumped on stage to ask for a recount.

The results was a triumph for the veteran socialist Corbyn -- the official leader of Britain's opposition since 2015 -- and a painful blow for a clutch of leaders who broke ranks and tried to turn Labour into an unambiguously pro-European party.

"We must fight with every fibre of our beings to say between now and 31 October, and afterwards if there is a general election, that any terms of departure, from any government, must go back to the British public for the final say," Labour's foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry insisted in an impassioned address.

"Because conference, we are an internationalist party." - 'Maximum consensus'

The result means that Labour will leave the conference in the same position that it came in -- in favour of a second referendum but against openly campaigning for or against.

The strategy has not been working with voters, who appear to want clear options as the country races toward an October 31 exit from Europe without a plan for future trade.

Two surveys published over the weekend put Labour 15 percentage points behind Prime Minister Boris Johnson's ruling Conservatives and in danger of losing second place to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

Grass roots activists spent hours deep into Sunday night trying to come up with a single Brexit motion that could be put up for a vote at the conference on Monday.

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