LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said on Saturday he would resist any attempt to oust him after the country voted to leave the European Union, citing his strong support among the party’s members.
Corbyn has been criticised by some of Labour’s elected MPs who say he did not campaign hard enough in support of EU membership, and had failed to convince millions of voters in the party’s heartlands to back “Remain”.
Hours after the 52 to 48 percent vote in favour of Brexit, or a British exit, which triggered financial and political turmoil across the globe, two MPs submitted a motion of no confidence in him. Others have also called for his resignation.
In his first speech since the vote, Corbyn said he would resist the calls, emphasising the large mandate given to him by party activists at a leadership contest last year, in which he was swept to victory on a wave of support for his left-wing political agenda.
Asked whether he would stand for re-election in any leadership contest, he said: “Yes, I’m here.”
“There are some people in the Labour Party ... who would want probably somebody else to be the leader of the Labour Party, they’ve made that abundantly clear.”
“What I’m totally amazed by is that in the past 24 hours 140,000 people have said they do not want the Labour Party to spend the next two months debating the leadership,” he said, citing an online petition calling for him to remain leader.
Around one third of Labour voters are estimated to have backed a British exit from the EU on Thursday, with many of those coming from traditional working class areas where high immigration tops the list of public concerns.
Responding to criticism from Labour colleagues that he had failed to address those concerns, Corbyn said there needed to be a national dialogue on immigration to reach a new settlement.
“We can’t duck the issue of immigration, clearly it was a factor,” he said. “We need to start an open and honest debate.”
Corbyn said Thursday’s vote showed a backlash against the EU principle of free movement. But he added that if Britain wanted to retain access to the European single market - one of many issues cast into doubt by the vote - he believed it would have to accept free movement as a condition of that deal.
“If we were part of the single market in future, then clearly that would be accompanied by the continuing free movement of people,” he said.
Editing by Mark Potter
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