The deputy leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party said Wednesday that he would stand down both from his frontline position and as a lawmaker at the country’s forthcoming general election on December 12, citing “personal not political” reasons.
Watson, 52, has clashed publicly with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn several times, most notably over Brexit policy and how to handle allegations of anti-Semitism within the party.
“Now is the right time for me to stand down from the House of Commons and start a different kind of life. The decision is personal, not political,” Watson said in a letter to Corbyn, adding he would continue as deputy leader until December 12 to help Labour contest its election campaign.
“I’m as committed to Labour as ever. I will spend this election fighting for brilliant Labour candidates and a better future for our country,” he wrote.
Unlike other British political parties, Labour deputy leaders are elected by party members and have an independent power base.
Watson, who joined the party in 1982 and has served as the party’s deputy leader since 2015, said that while he was standing down as a member of Parliament (MP), he would not be leaving politics altogether.
“I will continue to champion progressive social democracy and a political culture that is inclusive, diverse and respects the opinions of others,” he wrote.
A leading centrist and pro-European voice within the Labour Party, Watson had previously lent his support to a second Brexit referendum.
In a letter posted online Wednesday, Corbyn thanked Watson for his contribution to the Labour Party.
“Few people have given as much to the Labour movement as you have and I know that many thousands of members and trade unionists that you have inspired and worked with over the years will be very sorry to see you go,” the Labour leader wrote.
Corbyn wrote that being a lawmaker and deputy leader of the party was “far more than a job” and said he understood Watson had made a difficult decision.
“I respect your conclusion that it is in the best interests of you and your family that you stand down,” he said.
Both Corbyn and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson kicked-off their election campaigns this week, heralding the start of a contest which promises to be ugly and hard fought, with the eventual result hard to predict due to Brexit potentially shifting normal voting patterns.