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Senior UK Labour members challenge decision to back new EU Commission chief

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LONDON (Reuters) – Members of Labour’s top policy team are angry over a decision by their party in the European Parliament to support a new Commission president, questioning an “anti-democratic” move that elected what they called a right-wing candidate.

The European Parliament narrowly confirmed German conservative Ursula von der Leyen in a secret vote on Tuesday despite concerns among many lawmakers that the European Union’s national leaders did not appoint any of the lead candidates, or Spitzenkandidaten, put forward by the assembly.

Labour Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) backed her election to the top role in the EU after Richard Corbett, their leader in Strasbourg, said she had eased their concerns on a raft of issues from the environment to unemployment.

But for Labour members in London, the move was a step too far for a party that, under leader Jeremy Corbyn, has criticised the EU and had campaigned during Britain’s 2016 referendum to remain in and reform the bloc.

The spat adds a new layer to the divions in Britain’s main opposition party over the EU, with some party members putting Corbyn under increasing pressure to drop his bid to unite supporters and critics of the bloc and instead embrace an unequivocal pro-EU stance.

One source in Labour’s so-called shadow cabinet, or top team of policy aides, said it would be discussed at a meeting on Tuesday.

“This will be raised at shadow cabinet. There needs to be some accountability for decisions. I’ve got friends in Brussels who are horrified by this anti-democratic move,” the shadow cabinet member said on condition of anonymity.

Another Labour source said: “This anti-democratic undermining of the Spitzenkandidaten system and support for a right-wing candidate challenges the idea that these MEPs want to democratically reform as well as remain in the EU.”

Officials in Brussels reject the argument that the process of appointing the Commission president lacks democratic legitimacy, saying that both the national leaders and the European Parliament’s lawmakers are elected.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Stephen Addison)

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