In Brexit heartland, opposition leader’s words fall flat

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WAKEFIELD, United Kingdom, Jan 11, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – With less than three
months until Britain leaves the European Union, activists in Labour’s
industrial heartland, which voted heavily for Brexit, are demanding one thing
from their leader Jeremy Corbyn: clarity.

The opposition leader on Thursday demanded a general election but refused
again to reveal his own Brexit plans during a much-vaunted speech at
components manufacturer EO Electrics in Wakefield, northern England.

The company is a symbol of industrial success in a region still scarred by
decades of coal mine closures.

Corbyn said another election and a Labour government was the only path to
reconciliation for a country that is still deeply divided on the issue of
Brexit, but those in attendance were hoping to hear more concrete promises.

“I appreciate he has come to Yorkshire, the north of England being usually
the poor half of the UK, but my overriding impression is lack of clarity,”
said employee Mark Sutcliffe.

“I would have expected this speech two years ago, not with two, three
months to go. It is all too late now,” he added.

It is a sentiment shared by the handful of Labour activists who came to
hear the party leader, who is struggling to reconcile his own long-term
euroscepticism and that of many of the party’s traditional voters with the
pro-EU feelings of many of his MPs and young supporters.

“I want him to support the people’s vote… because most of the Labour
Party members… want to remain,” said retired teacher Lynne Stainthorpe, 66.

“He talks about wanting a general election first, but I don’t think that’s
going to happen,” added Stainthorpe, who was wrapped in a European flag.

– ‘Riding two horses’ –

A second referendum on EU membership remains only “an option on the table”
said Corbyn, who has always resisted pressure to actively support such a
move.

Labour party member Robert Gossling said the leader was “riding two horses”
in an attempt to keep peace in party ranks, but was now reaching “a point
where he needs to make a decision.”

Voters in Wakefield voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit in the 2016
referendum, with support hitting 63 percent compared to 52 percent
nationally.

But some said they would like to reverse their decision.

“I voted to leave, and now I think I should have voted to remain,” said Eve
Campbell, a 62-year-old housewife, walking through the pedestrianised streets
around Wakefield Cathedral.

Campbell admitted to being “confused” by Labour’s stance on Brexit, and was
unimpressed by the calls for a general election.

“We need to sort this problem out first: one way or the other, we must have
a good deal for leaving, or a new vote.”

– ‘Wasted opportunity’ –

Proud Labour voter Jacqueline O’Rourke, a receptionist at a car dealership
on the edge of town, criticised Corbyn for not forcing a vote-of-no-
confidence when Prime Minister Theresa May delayed last month’s key
parliamentary vote on her Brexit agreement with defeat looming.

“It is a wasted opportunity,” she said.

“He is not quite strong enough, to be honest, his voice isn’t strong
enough,” she explained.

The 48-year-old mother-of-two hoped that Corbyn would not miss the
opportunity again if May’s Brexit deal is rejected by parliament in next
week’s rescheduled vote.

But the opposition leader was again cautious over his exact plans.

Corbyn promised he would introduce a motion of no-confidence if the
government were defeated, but only “at the moment we judge it has the best
chance of success.”

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