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LONDON: British Labour Party lawmakers voted massively against their leader on Tuesday amid political turmoil in Britain after a vote to leave the European Union as candidates to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron vied for power behind the scenes.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn lost a non-binding confidence motion, with 172 Labour MPs voting against him and only 40 in favour out of a total of 229 Labour lawmakers in the House of Commons lower house.
But the veteran socialist insisted he would not stand down. “I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60 per cent of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning. Today’s vote by MPs has no constitutional legitimacy,” he said in a statement.
Five days after the shock referendum vote, the two parties that have dominated Westminster for nearly a century were in almost complete disarray.
Pro-EU finance minister George Osborne, long tipped to succeed Cameron, ruled himself out on Tuesday while British media reported that Work and Pensions Minister Stephen Crabb, a virtual unknown to the British public, would put his name forward.
Former London mayor and Leave figurehead Boris Johnson — now a bogeyman for many in the Remain camp — is tipped as one of the favourites. The other is interior minister Theresa May who is reportedly seeking support for a rival bid that British media tipped as the “Stop Boris” campaign.
The Conservatives have set a Thursday deadline for nominations and the party said the winner would be announced on Sept 9. Cameron has said he would leave it to his successor to invoke Article 50 — the formal procedure for exiting the European Union.
On the opposition side, over half of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet — the leadership of his party — have now resigned since Sunday in a coordinated series of resignations against the 67-year-old, who only became leader in September.
Corbyn, a veteran socialist and eurosceptic who voted against EU membership in a 1975 referendum, has come under heavy criticism from pro-EU lawmakers for his lukewarm campaigning in favour of Britain staying in. But Corbyn himself has blamed Conservative austerity measures for creating disenchantment in many working-class areas and said the media had not covered Labour’s referendum campaign, focussing instead on rifts within the ruling Conservatives.
‘Brexiteer’ Farage booed in rowdy parliament debate in Brussels
Leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage was booed and heckled in a raucous special session of the European Parliament on Tuesday as he accused the EU of imposing a superstate on its citizens and predicted other countries would leave the bloc like Britain.
Facing Farage, who sat with a British Union Jack flag planted on the table in front of him, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker asked: “Why are you here?” When Farage interrupted Juncker’s speech to applaud the results of last week’s British vote to leave the EU, the Commission chief shot back: “That is the last time you are applauding here.”
The exchanges underscored just how fraught ties between European officials and British politicians have become since the vote on Thursday, which left far-right anti-European parties across the bloc cheering and governments fretting about political and economic aftershocks.
The parliamentary session began on a friendly note, with Juncker air-kissing Farage, acknowledging sadness at the outcome of the referendum and paying tribute to Jonathan Hill, the British financial services commissioner who resigned on Saturday after campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU. Hill, a popular figure among EU colleagues during his 18 months in Brussels, appeared overwhelmed by the outpouring. But the air of sombre civility did not last long, as leading lawmakers accused the Leave camp of having lied their way to victory.
In a fiery speech, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt accused British politicians of creating a “toxic climate” of uncertainty since the Brexit vote and described former London mayor Boris Johnson, a Brexit advocate and leading candidate to replace Cameron, as a “selfish man” who had put his own political ambitions above the interests of his country.
German Manfred Weber, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leader of the biggest group in parliament, took on Farage in the packed house: “If you had an ounce of decency today, you would apologise to the British people. Shame on you.”
Speaking to reporters earlier, Farage appeared to backtrack on disputed claims by the Leave campaign that an exit would allow London to redirect 350 million pounds ($467.81 million) per week they alleged it sent to Brussels to Britain’s National Health Service.
Farage estimated the savings at 34 million pounds per day, significantly less than promised on a weekly basis. Experts have said the 350 million pound figure is a distortion because it does not take into account either the rebate London receives from the EU nor the EU budget funds spent in Britain.
“If you had said this before the vote I could have congratulated you,” Juncker said. “But you lied. You didn’t tell the truth.”