Monday 21 October 2019

Labour keeps Farage at bay with narrow victory in by-election

Remainer: Lisa Forbes and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn celebrate Labour’s win. Photo: PA
Remainer: Lisa Forbes and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn celebrate Labour’s win. Photo: PA

Chris Radburn

The UK Labour Party narrowly held on to its Peterborough seat in a by-election yesterday, seeing off a challenge from Nigel Farage's insurgent Brexit Party to win by fewer than 700 votes.

It is a win that could ease pressure for now on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to throw his unequivocal support behind a second Brexit referendum, which many in his party have been saying was the only way to break the impasse over Britain's departure.

But for the governing Conservatives, the fierce challenge by the Brexit Party which was only launched in April, will encourage contenders hoping to replace Prime Minister Theresa May to stick to a tough message on the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union.

Labour hailed a slim victory by Lisa Forbes, who won 10,484 votes, beating the bookmakers' favourite, the Brexit Party, into second with 9,801 votes. The Conservatives came third with 7,243 votes.

"This result shows that in spite of the divisions and deadlock over Brexit, when it comes to a vote on the issues that directly affect people's lives, Labour's case for real change has strong support across the country," said Mr Corbyn.

"In this key seat, the Conservatives have been pushed to the margins."

The Cambridgeshire election was triggered when Labour's Fiona Onasanya became the first member of parliament to be ousted in a recall petition, after she was jailed for lying about a speeding offence. She had won the seat from the Tories in the 2017 general election with a majority of just 607 votes.

Labour's success was largely due to a large ground campaign to get the vote out - something Mr Farage said his party could not match because it had only been in existence for eight weeks.

He instead turned his ire on the Tories and warned if voters did not back his party at future elections, they would be laying the ground for a Corbyn government.

"There are now seats like this over the country where Conservative voters are going to start to realise that if you vote Conservative you're going to finish up with a Corbyn government," he told BBC radio.

"If we don't leave and leave with a clean Brexit on October 31, the Brexit Party will power on."

Almost three years since Britain voted 52pc to 48pc to leave, MPs remain at loggerheads over how, when or even whether to leave the EU.

Mrs May has officially resigned as Conservative leader and will leave No 10 Downing Street when the new incumbent is expected be announced later in July. Her failure to get her Brexit deal approved and the prospect of a "no-deal" exit has become central to the battle to replace her, with the success of Mr Farage's party pressing them to strike tough lines on Britain's departure.

Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace May, also said the rise of the Brexit Party could open the door to a Corbyn government. "Conservatives must deliver Brexit by October 31 or we risk Brexit Party votes delivering Corbyn to No 10," he said on Twitter.

The Brexit Party swept to victory in the European Parliament election in Britain last month, riding a wave of anger over Mrs May's failure to deliver Brexit on time.

But Labour's successful campaign to get its vote out in Peterborough, which backed Brexit by 61pc to 39pc in the referendum, foiled its bid to win a first seat in the British parliament.

"Despite differing opinions across our city, the fact that the Brexit Party has been rejected here in Peterborough shows that the politics of division will not win," Ms Forbes said in her victory speech.

A remain supporter, she said Mrs May's successor should restart government talks with Mr Corbyn that failed to find a way through the deadlock.

Labour, which along with the Conservatives saw its support slump at the European elections, is divided over whether to unequivocally support holding a second referendum.

Mr Corbyn has so far only said the option of another Brexit vote should be kept on the table, along with a general election.

Irish Independent

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