Published:  12:19 AM, 12 January 2019

In Brexit heartland, opposition leader's words fall flat

In Brexit heartland, opposition leader's words fall flat Labor leader Corbyn says Brexit talks must go ahead after inconclusive poll. -AFP

With less than three months until Britain leaves the European Union, activists in Labor'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 Labor 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 Labor activists who came to hear the party leader, who is struggling to reconcile his own long-term euro skepticism 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 Labor 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.

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. Labor 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 favor 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 pedestrianized streets around Wakefield Cathedral. Campbell admitted to being "confused" by Labor'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."

Proud Labor voter Jacqueline O'Rourke, a receptionist at a car dealership on the edge of town, criticized 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."

---AFP, Wakefield

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