Jeremy Corbyn defended his “extremely popular” policies and blamed Brexit for Labour’s devastating defeat as he announced he would stand down as leader after overseeing a “period of reflection”.
With the Tories expected to cruise to a comfortable majority, a deflated Mr Corbyn said it had been a “very disappointing night”, with support crumbling in former Labour heartlands.
Mr Corbyn acknowledged that he had to leave Labour’s helm after suffering a second General Election defeat as he criticised media “attacks” towards himself, his family and the party.
“I want to also make it clear that I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign,” he said as he accepted victory in his Islington North constituency.
“I will discuss with our party to ensure there is a process now of reflection on this result and on the policies that the party will take going forward.
“And I will lead the party during that period to ensure that discussion takes place and we move on into the future.”
The General Election exit poll forecast Labour to shed 52 seats to secure 191 – the party’s poorest result since 1935. And it put the Tories as securing 368 seats, giving the party a majority of 86.
Mr Corbyn defended putting forward a “manifesto of hope” that would help wrong the injustices and inequalities gripping the nation and tackle the climate crisis.
“All of those policies were extremely popular during the election campaign and remain policies that have huge popular support all across this country,” he said in the Sobell Leisure Centre in Holloway, north London.
“However Brexit has so polarised and divided debate in this country it has overridden so much of a normal political debate and I recognise that has contributed to the results that the Labour party has received this evening all across this country.”
Mr Corbyn ran as an outside candidate for the party leadership in 2015 and managed to outlast two Tory prime ministers.
Jeremy Corbyn says he will not lead Labour in a future general election but will oversee a ‘process of reflection’ within the party pic.twitter.com/TeYlITwksk
— Sam Blewett (@BlewettSam) December 13, 2019
The veteran campaigner, joined at the election count by wife Laura Alvarez and emotional colleagues, said he will remain as MP in the constituency he has represented since 1983.
Labour’s official line was to blame Brexit for dominating the discourse, but the leader was coming under mounting pressure to depart after being cited as being the greater problem on the doorstep.
A leadership battle that could once again expose deep divisions in the party is set to follow.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary who is believed to be eyeing a Labour leadership bid, won back her Islington South and Finsbury seat at the same venue as Mr Corbyn.
She attacked the “duplicitous, gutless, reckless” Prime Minister, adding: “We may be hurting tonight but we are not beaten. We will tell Boris Johnson no our fight is not over our fight is just starting.”