Jeremy Corbyn tells Conservative leadership contenders to 'bring it on' after by-election win

7 June 2019, 11:03 | Updated: 7 June 2019, 14:05

Jeremy Corbyn has told the "squabbling" Tory leadership candidates that his Labour Party are "ready for a general election at any time".

Speaking in Peterborough after Labour secured a narrow by-election victory over Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, Mr Corbyn said: "All the experts wrote Labour off - write Labour off at your peril."

Prime Minister Theresa May will today resign as Tory leader to allow the contest to replace her to formally begin, with 11 candidates having already announced their intention to run.

And Mr Corbyn added: "On the day that Theresa May ceases to be leader of the Conservative Party, my message is to all the squabbling contenders for the Tory party leadership: Bring it on! We are ready for a general election at any time!"

Labour's candidate Lisa Forbes, with 10,484 votes, will become the newest MP in the House of Commons after beating the Brexit Party's candidate Mike Greene, who attracted 9,801 votes.

The Conservatives, who held the seat between 2005 and 2017, endured a disappointing night as their candidate Paul Bristow finished third with 7,243 votes.

Speaking earlier, as he left for Peterborough to congratulate Ms Forbes, Mr Corbyn said: "The people of Peterborough rejected austerity and rejected the no-deal Brexit being offered by the Brexit Party."

Labour's disappointing result in May's EU elections, where they finished third behind the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats, had seen Mr Corbyn face growing calls to fully support a second EU referendum in order to win over Remain voters.

But, with Peterborough having backed Leave at the 2016 EU referendum, the Labour leader added: "This win shows that Labour has support all across the piece, all across the country.

"And we are ready for a general election whenever it comes and we will stop the Tories taking this country into a no-deal Brexit, with all the threats to jobs that go with that."

Ms Forbes faced controversy in the week before polling day over a Facebook post she "liked", which said Mrs May had a "Zionist slave masters agenda".

She apologised "wholeheartedly for not calling out these posts" and explained she had liked the video attached to the post and "not the views expressed in the accompanying text".

Mr Corbyn said: "Our party campaigned very hard. We had unbelievable levels of hostility from much of the mainstream media throughout the campaign.

"But our doorstep message, our message in the communities, carried the day and that is what political power is all about."

On the Tory leadership election, the Labour leader said: "I don't know who the new leader is going to be, but it seems to be a choice between no deal, no deal and no deal, as far as I can understand it."

Mr Farage insisted that second place in Peterborough showed their victory in the EU elections last month was "not a flash in the pan".

"We're here to stay, politics has fundamentally changed and, on top of what happened here last night, there was a national opinion poll that put us six points in the lead!," he said.

"So something is really changing out there."

Giving his reasons for the Brexit Party's failure to win the seat, Mr Farage added: "We are very new, we came into this with bags of enthusiasm but we didn't actually have the data on the ground.

"That, in the end, is what wins and loses by-elections.

"We were up against the national Labour Party machine here.

"They can't fight us like this in every seat in the country and, if the polls are right and we're now in the lead, who can even predict what would happen at a general election?"

After Mrs May twice delayed the UK's exit from the EU, Brexit is now due to happen on 31 October.

Despite a number of Tory leadership candidates vowing to push ahead with Brexit this autumn should they become prime minister, Mr Farage said: "I have a feeling they're going to march everybody up to the top of the hill and then back down again.

"I'm not sure any of them have really got the courage to do this."

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Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Matt Hancock and Esther McVey were among those Conservative contenders to claim the Peterborough result showed the need for the Tories to "deliver Brexit".

Some, although not all, the Tory candidates have promised to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October with or without a divorce agreement.

Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis admitted he was "very disappointed" by the outcome of the by-election.

Asked if Peterborough result would make the Tories resolved to avoid a general election, Mr Lewis told Sky News: "In the time I've spent going around the country, which I do every week, I've not heard anybody asking me for a general election.

"People want to see parliament, they want to see us as a government and a party getting on and delivering for them.

"And that does include getting Brexit done."