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Labour party members vote against pro-EU stance for election run

British Labour MP John McDonnell greets party leader Jeremy Corbyn on stage during the Labour party annual conference in Brighton, Britain September 23, 2019.
British Labour MP John McDonnell greets party leader Jeremy Corbyn on stage during the Labour party annual conference in Brighton, Britain September 23, 2019. -
REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
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British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won support for his Brexit strategy on Monday, fighting off a challenge by members who wanted him to immediately back remaining in the European Union before any election.

The vote at his party's annual conference in the English seaside resort of Brighton was the latest outburst of dissent over Corbyn's Brexit approach.

But members fell into line and backed Corbyn's stance to first try to win an election, renegotiate the Brexit deal and then hold a special conference to decide the party's stance - either to leave with a deal or remain - in a second referendum.

Corbyn, an instinctive leftist critic of the EU, has been under renewed pressure from party members and even some of his top team to unequivocally endorse remaining in the EU, and their rebellion had forced a vote between the two options.

The depth of feeling over Brexit was on show at conference, with even some members of his top team saying Corbyn should decide Labour's position now, rather than wait for an election that is widely expected to be held by the end of the year.

Some members argued with the chairwoman's decision to say that their bid had failed, suggesting that a simple showing of hands was not an accurate way to take a decision.

But Corbyn's team breathed a sigh of relief that his position had been left intact. "So @jeremycorbyn Brexit position triumphed at @UKLabour conference this afternoon," his home affairs policy chief, Diane Abbott, said on Twitter.

"The message is, despite the chatter from commentators, the party is determined to unite behind its leader."

Party divisions

More than three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, both parties are still deeply divided, leaving parliament deadlocked and heightening uncertainty over when, how and even whether Brexit will happen.

Corbyn has been criticised over what some describe as a vague stance on Brexit, with some in his party saying the lack of clarity has driven away Labour supporters.

According to a new opinion poll on Monday, more than half of voters who backed Labour at a 2017 election think it is now time for Corbyn to stand down.

Asked whether Labour would campaign to stay in the EU or to leave with a deal, Corbyn said he would hold a special conference to determine his stance after an election, pledging to be guided by his party.

"I am leading the party, I am proud to lead the party, I am proud of the democracy of the party and of course I will go along with whatever decision the party comes to," Corbyn said.

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