A motion to oust Tom Watson, deputy leader of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party, was withdrawn after it opened up divisions on the first day of the party’s conference, threatening to overshadow preparations for a general election.
The ruling National Executive Committee was due to vote on the surprise move as delegates met in Brighton, southern England, for a gathering that was supposed to kick start the party’s campaign to oust Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The plan to cut Watson’s position sparked fury from Labour members of parliament and dominated the media, eclipsing the party’s policy announcements. The chatter on Sunday morning looks set to be clouded by the resignation of Corbyn’s aide Andrew Fisher, reported by the Sunday Times to have said Corbyn won’t win the next general election.
“We’ve had a bad start to our conference,” Watson, who earlier referred to the attempt to strip him of his job as “a drive-by shooting,” told reporters as he arrived in Brighton. The party needs “to reunite the conference after what has been, frankly, quite a ridiculous start to it and totally unnecessary,” he said.
Watson, who was elected on a separate mandate from leader Jeremy Corbyn, has publicly disagreed with the leadership on Brexit policy. He has been pushing for a second referendum before a general election is held and for the party to support remaining in the European Union.
The NEC also sought to clarify Labour’s Brexit policy with a draft of a statement that will be put to delegates.
It said that if the party wins a general election it will negotiate a “sensible” deal with the EU within three months before putting it to a referendum, with remaining in the bloc the other option in the ballot. The conference was expected to debate Brexit and to vote on motions brought by constituencies from across UK once they have been consolidated in a meeting.