Remain parties’ hopes of fighting the Peterborough by-election on a joint ticket have been dashed after the independent unity candidate pulled out under pressure from Labour, sources said.
The Liberal Democrats, Greens, Change UK, and Renew had agreed to hold back from fielding candidates and back an independent to campaign to stop Brexit via a second referendum.
But sources told HuffPost UK that Labour backers of a so-called People’s Vote successfully pressurised the independent not to stand, warning that they could split the Remain vote and usher in a Brexit Party MP in Peterborough.
Change UK, the new party of Labour and Tory splitters, will now not fight the election as it believed it had a plan to support the independent and did not have a fallback option ready.
But the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Renew will all contest the June 6 by-election to find a replacement for ex-Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, who lost her seat through a recall petition after serving time in prison for lying about a speeding offence.
Change UK’s 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.”
But a Labour source hit back: “This is a bizarre and transparent attempt by Change UK to justify their own incompetence. Clearly they don’t like by-elections."
The Green Party said it had become “impossible” for the cross-party plan to work and that it would now stand a candidate, Joseph Wells, “who is serious about tackling climate chaos, and who wants to work hard for the people of Peterborough”.
“The Green Party will always put the country before party and explore options which might best benefit its strong call for a People’s Vote and remaining in the European Union,” it said.
Beki Sellick will fight the by-election for the Lib Dems, Paul Bristow for the Tories, and Lisa Forbes for Labour.
Businessman Mike Greene, who has appeared on Channel 4′s The Secret Millionaire, will stand for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in its first shot at a seat in Westminster.