November 6, 2019 / 8:31 PM / 6 days ago

British Labour party deputy leader Watson to stand down at election

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Deputy Labour Party Leader Tom Watson speaks on Brexit at an event in London, September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - Tom Watson, deputy leader of Britain’s Labour Party, said on Wednesday he would stand down as a lawmaker at December’s election, citing personal reasons and playing down his political differences with party chief Jeremy Corbyn.

Watson, 52, a moderate in the party who had disagreed on Brexit policy with the leftist Corbyn, said he wanted to do something new.

“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 that he would continue as Deputy Leader until the election on Dec. 12.

“I want to thank you for the decency and courtesy you have shown me over the last four years, even in difficult times.”

Watson survived a bid to oust him as deputy leader at the party’s conference in Brighton in September, in what he described as a “drive-by” shooting after he challenged Corbyn’s position on Brexit.

The Labour Party has struggled with splits over its stance on Britain’s planned exit from the European Union, and Watson had favoured a second Brexit referendum before any new election was held.

Watson said that his “many shared interests” with Corbyn were less known than their political differences, and he would devote himself to things he had discussed with the leader such as stopping press intrusion.

Watson gained prominence when he became one of Rupert Murdoch’s most vocal critics over phone-hacking at the News of the World newspaper - an affair that damaged Murdoch’s global media empire.

First elected in 2001, Watson also served as a government whip under Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by William James and Mark Heinrich

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