The Liberal Democrats have withdrawn their parliamentary hopeful from a seat they once held for ten years as part of a ‘remain alliance’.
The pact will see James Cox stand aside in Bristol West to enable Green Party candidate Carla Denyer to fight for the Labour-held constituency on a strong pro-EU ticket, a move both parties believe will avoid splitting the remain vote.
Labour politicians, however, have slammed their opponents for targeting Labour seats, with incumbent MP Thangam Debbonaire saying that she has “consistently and unwaveringly” campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU.
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Debbonaire, who won one of the biggest majorities in the UK at the 2017 General Election, has insisted only a Labour government can deliver a referendum.
Her colleague Darren Jones, who seized victory in Bristol North West in 2017, called the remain alliance “a disappointing development”.
He said: “I’ve long supported cross-party working, fairer voting and collaboration between candidates but I can’t understand why a remain alliance would target solidly remain Labour MPs.”
Unite to Remain is a cross-party alliance involving the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, the Independent Group for Change and various anti-Brexit independents.
The campaign seeks to stop the UK leaving the EU by standing aside in what it sees as key parliamentary seats, with the Lib Dems standing aside for the Greens in constituencies including Brighton Pavilion, Stroud and the Forest of Dean; and Greens standing aside for the Lib Dems in constituencies including Bath, Cheltenham and Thornbury & Yate.
Bristol West was a Lib Dem seat for a decade, returning Stephen Williams in 2005 and 2010, before he suffered a crushing defeat in 2015, turning the constituency red. Debbonaire went on to increase her majority in 2017 despite the Greens focusing their efforts on the strong remain seat.
It is one of 60 seats in which various parties will be standing aside in the hope that a new parliament can deliver a People’s Vote or support the Liberal Democrat policy of revoking Article 50.
Read more: Bristol West: 2017 General Election result
Explaining his decision to stand down, Cox said: “I first got into politics because I wanted to change it. After the EU Referendum, I was a founding member of Paddy Ashdown’s More United because I believe in the realignment of progressive politics in this country to defeat the Tories and other illiberal forces.
“We as a party have vowed to do what we can to fix our broken politics. I am proud to play my part in a movement that is looking beyond party politics and putting the country first.
“Whilst I am not fighting this election, I will continue to work to stop Brexit and build a brighter future for the people of Bristol.”
Denyer said: “This election is now a clear choice: people can vote to renegotiate a Brexit deal with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, or they can vote Green for a party that’s unequivocally for a People’s Vote and remain.”
She thanked Cox for standing aside, adding: “We want to promote a politics of hope and of grown-up thinking to build a bright future for everyone in England and Wales.”
In a statement on Twitter, Debbonaire said: “Remember in Bristol West, as MP I have consistently and unwaveringly campaigned for us to remain in the EU. So far, due in large part to the work I have been part of as a Labour Whip, we have remained in the EU.
“To remain in the EU we are going to have to ask the public if they would rather remain in the EU, compared with leaving on a withdrawal agreement, moving on from the misleading ‘in or out’ of 2016. Only a Labour government can deliver this referendum. I will campaign for remain.
“In a Public Vote on deal vs remain, I will campaign for remain. It’s the best deal there is. But if I am unsuccessful, I would rather the deal we left under protected jobs, rights, standards and environmental rules – as much as possible. The Tory deals don’t. On purpose.”