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Boris Johnson presses election rival Jeremy Corbyn to explain Brexit stance

File photo: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP London, United Kingdom Nov 05, 2019, 03.51 PM (IST)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pressed opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday to tell voters in next month's election whether he backs leaving the EU.

Johnson's main rival in the snap December 12 poll has struggled with defining his position on Brexit ever since Britons narrowly triggered the divorce in a 2016 referendum.

Labour's new official stance is to negotiate a more EU-friendly withdrawal agreement with Brussels and then let voters decide whether to back it or simply stay in the EU.

But Corbyn refuses to say whether he would then campaign for his own deal. Most top members in the party oppose Brexit and have said they would campaign to remain in the bloc.

Johnson's Conservatives are trying to seize on Labour's divisions on the defining issue of UK politics.

"Now the time has come for you to come clean," Johnson told Corbyn in a letter released by his office.

"Do you believe the results of the 2016 referendum should be respected and the UK should leave the EU?" Johnson asked.

"Would you commit to campaign for your 'deal' in a second referendum?"

Labour's Brexit spokesman Keir Sarmer told BBC radio that letting Britons decide what to do about Brexit was a "practical way to break the impasse".

"It's not for the politicians... it's for the people to decide," Starmer said.

Starmer himself is one of the senior Labour members opposed to Brexit.

Corbyn was due to address supporters later Tuesday.

Labour is trailing the Conservatives by 11 percentage points in a poll of polls compiled by Britain Elects.

But the field also includes smaller pro-EU opposition parties that could potentially form a post-election coalition with Labour, if they ever agree on who should lead the government.

The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats came in second in European Parliament polls in May that Britain was forced to take part in because of Brexit delays.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson will formally launch her party's campaign on Tuesday in London.

Her party is currently running in third place with around 18 per cent of the vote.

But she firmly refuses to back Corbyn, the official leader of the opposition, and wants to become prime minister herself.

The Brexit Party of populist Nigel Farage has 11 per cent and will pile pressure on Johnson during the campaign from the anti-European right.

Story highlights

Labour's new official stance is to negotiate a more EU-friendly withdrawal agreement with Brussels and then let voters decide whether to back it or simply stay in the EU.