Change UK, Greens and Lib Dems blame Labour after parties fail to agree backing for single, pro-Remain candidate in Peterborough by-election

Cross-party talks end without parties forming electoral pact as Change UK blames Labour figures for scuppering deal

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Thursday 09 May 2019 17:04 BST
European elections are a chance to demand a People's Vote, says Change UK's Heidi Allen

An attempt by pro-EU political parties to form a Remain alliance for next month’s Peterborough by-election has ended in failure, with Change UK blaming Labour supporters for negotiations breaking down.

The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and Change UK had held discussions in the hope of uniting behind an independent candidate supportive of another Brexit referendum.

Change UK blamed Labour figures for the breakdown, saying Labour supporters of the campaign for a second referendum had intervened to object to the pro-Remain parties uniting behind a single candidate.

The Peterborough by-election was triggered when voters in the city recalled former Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who lost her seat after being jailed for perverting the course of justice. She was convicted after being found to have lied about a speeding ticket, and has said she will not stand in the upcoming election.

The seat has traditionally alternated between Labour and the Conservatives, and Labour won it in 2017 by just 600 votes.

It is understood that the pro-Remain parties had agreed to support the same independent candidate in the by-election but that the person decided to withdraw from the contest shortly before the deadline after pressure from figures associated with the Labour Party.

In a statement, Change UK MP Gavin Shuker said: “Change UK, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and Renew have been working hard these last few days on a joint approach to the Peterborough by-election, recognising that we need to put the country’s interests first, securing a people’s vote and remaining in the European Union.

“We all agreed to stand down any candidates we might field in favour of a genuinely independent, pro-people’s vote and pro-Remain candidate who had expressed an interest and intention to stand.

“However, senior Labour figures, including senior figures campaigning for a people’s vote, made it clear that they would strenuously disrupt the campaign and obstruct an independent candidate, driven by fears that it would harm their party in Peterborough.”

In a similar statement, the Green Party said it had hoped to agree a joint candidate but that it had “become impossible for this to proceed”.

It said it would therefore field its own candidate while continuing to ”explore options which might best benefit its strong call for a people’s vote and remaining in the European Union”.

The Liberal Democrats said they were “the strongest Remain party” and would be fielding Beki Sellick, a local businesswoman and campaigner, as its candidate.

It is understood that Change UK did not register a candidate in time for Thursday’s deadline.

The pro-EU parties had hoped to work together to counter the strong Leave vote in the area and the popularity of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which has surged in polls for European parliament elections later this month.

The anti-EU party is fielding Mike Greene, a former contestant on Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire, as its candidate in Peterborough.

The Conservatives lost Peterborough City Council to no overall control in last week’s local elections after three years in charge, amid widespread anger at Theresa May’s handling of Brexit. 

Labour remains the second largest group on the council with 17 seats, followed by the Lib Dems with nine.

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