Labour deputy leader says Brexit stance behind effort to oust him

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Deputy Labour party leader Tom Watson speaks to delegates in the main hall, on day three of the annual Labour Party Conference on September 26, 2017 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The deputy leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party said on Saturday that his stance on Brexit, where he backs a second referendum before a parliamentary election, unlike leader Jeremy Corbyn, is behind efforts by some in the party to remove him.

Just over a month before Britain is due to leave the European Union, it still remains unclear whether, how or if Brexit will take place on Oct. 31, amid deep divisions within both the ruling Conservatives and the Labour Party.

Citing disloyalty over Brexit at a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee on Friday, Jon Lansman, the founder of the left-wing grassroots movement Momentum, proposed a motion to abolish the deputy’s post, according to two party officials.

The chair ruled that the motion should be thrown out but it is set to go back to the National Executive Committee on Saturday and, if successful, due to be debated by Labour’s annual party conference later on, according to a source close to Lansman.

Watson told BBC radio: “I just think Jon Lansman and his faction are so angry about (my position on Brexit) that, they’d rather abolish me than have a debate with me about it.”

A Labour Party spokesman declined to comment.

The Conservatives have been bitterly divided over Europe for decades and have expelled as Prime Minister Boris Johnson promises to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal, while others have simply quit.

In the Labour Party, Corbyn backs a second referendum only after an election, which could come as soon as this year, while Watson wants a new public vote to settle the matter before Britons choose a new government.

Watson has been accused by some of Corbyn’s supporters of being disloyal or even trying to undermine the Labour leader on a range of issues including allegations of anti-Semitism in the party.

Dawn Butler, Labour’s spokeswoman for women and equalities, failed to fully back the deputy leader when given the chance on Saturday.

“I have my frustrations with Tom too,” she told BBC radio. “I haven’t seen him at a shadow cabinet meeting for a while and so I can understand people’s frustration – but we are a broad church.”

Additional reporting by Liz Piper; Editing by Kevin Liffey  LONDON (Reuters)