Tim Farron accuses Jeremy Corbyn of waving 'the white flag' to Tories on Brexit

The Lib Dem leader was celebrating his party's win over the Conservatives in Richmond Park

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Indy Politics

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has accused Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson of having "waved the white flag" to the Tories on Brexit.

Speaking after his party’s shock by-election victory in Richmond, largely won on an anti-Brexit platform, Mr Farron said it was crucial for politicians concerned about leaving the EU to fight on.

The political attack comes as some Labour insiders raised concerns that their party cannot appease both pro-Brexit voters in the north at risk of going to Ukip and pro-EU voters in the south at risk of leaking to the Lib Dems.

Mr Farron told The Independent: "When elections take place it’s important to do two things if you’ve got anything about you. One is to have the grace to accept the result and the other is not to give up. If you have lost an election as we did in June and you give up, there is something wrong with you.

"That’s why I am so disappointed in people like Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour party, who have just given up. Waved the white flag in front of the Tory extreme Brexit government.

"Well the Liberal Democrats have not done that. We’ve shown principle we’ve shown backbone – yesterday we were rewarded."

In Richmond the Lib Dems fought an anti-Brexit campaign, promising to oppose triggering Article 50 in the Commons. Over 70 per cent of constituents in Richmond voted to Remain.

Labour’s already small vote in the seat was completely decimated, with the party’s candidate Christian Wolmar losing his deposit.

Amid fears of a strident Ukip in its heartland areas, Labour has taken an accommodating approach to Brexit, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell recently calling for his party to "embrace the enormous opportunities" of leaving the EU.

But a senior Labour source in London said that created a problem in the capital, adding: "Ukip is not a massive issue in London, but the Lib Dems are. We’re between a rock and a hard place. That is where we are. We cannot see a way out of the bind."

Shadow minister Andrew Gywnne sought to play down the significance of Richmond, saying it was a "unique by-election in exceptional circumstances" adding that the result is a "terrible one for Theresa May and the Tories".

He added: "Obviously it's not a great result for Labour, we would have hoped to have done better, but it was never a seat where people would have expected us to do well even in a normal election which this wasn't."

Sarah Olney reacts to Richmond by-election win

Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney turned her fire on the Tories, telling The Independent: "What I’m hoping we’ve achieved yesterday is to send Theresa May a very clear message that she is losing votes she is losing seats over her approach to hard Brexit.

"I really hope that will persuade her to change her mind."

A Tory spokesperson said the result "doesn’t change anything", with ex-Cabinet minister Michael Gove adding: "I think it would be a mistake for [Ms Olney] or anyone else to interpret this as any sort of mandate to frustrate the will of the British people."