Embattled British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for unity on Sunday after the left-leaning party's annual conference exposed splits over its Brexit policy and the role of Corbyn's deputy.
‘I want us to come together,’ Corbyn told the Sunday Mirror newspaper as he discussed his role in the withdrawal of a motion on Saturday to abolish the post of deputy leader.
Labour left-wingers had wanted to oust deputy Tom Watson, a centrist who openly opposes Corbyn on Brexit and other issues. But several pro-EU groups in the party back Watson and are unhappy with Corbyn's position.
‘There is, honestly, a battle for the future of the Labour party,’ Watson told a rally of Labour First, a group of party moderates, on Sunday.
Corbyn said he told Labour's national executive on Saturday that the party should ‘review how the deputy leadership works and have an election process for two deputy leaders in the future which reflects diversity within our society, so one would be a woman.’
Diane Abbott, Labour's shadow home secretary and a close ally of Corbyn, said in a conference speech on Sunday that she believes the party can win an election despite its divisions.
‘Ours will be a great reforming Labour government,’ Abbott said on the second day of the five-day conference, which is expected to be attended by some 13,000 of the party's 500,000-plus members.
She promised to ‘welcome refugees’ and ensure other improvements in Britain's human rights environment, while rejecting the current government's approach to the European Union.
Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU on October 31, with or without a deal, but Labour and other opposition parties have sought to prevent a no-deal exit and accused him of paying lip service to ongoing talks with Brussels.
Corbyn has vowed to agree a new Brexit deal with the EU if he becomes prime minister and then give voters a referendum to choose between that deal and remaining in the bloc. He has suggested he would remain neutral in any referendum campaign.
‘No deal is a Boris Johnson project on behalf of [US President] Donald Trump,’ Abbott said in her speech, referring to Johnson's plan to agree a liberal free-trade deal with Washington.
‘As the government's own documents tell us, no deal could create civil unrest, public disorder, and undermine our ability to tackle crime and terrorism,’ she added.
But Watson wants Labour to ‘unambiguously and unequivocally back remain’ and to prioritize a second Brexit referendum over an election.
Several pro-EU Labour campaign groups were also lobbying inside and outside the conference for the party to ‘campaign energetically for a public vote’ and to remain in the EU.
Abbott told the BBC on Sunday that Labour is ‘the only party offering people a say’ on Brexit.
Labour's two main rivals, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, are pro-leave and pro-remain on Britain's EU future, respectively.
Corbyn will be ‘arriving at a position that has a People's Vote at the heart of it,’ Abbott said, referring to the main campaign for a second referendum.
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