U.K. Labour Lawmaker Quits, Testing Corbyn in Brexit Heartlands

  • Hunt steps down to run Victoria and Albert Museum in London
  • UKIP hopeful in working-class district that voted to quit EU

U.K. opposition lawmaker Tristram Hunt said he will step down from Parliament, triggering a special election that will test the popularity of both his Labour Party and the U.K. Independence Party in one of the most pro-Brexit areas of the country.

Hunt, who is leaving politics to run London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, has represented Stoke-on-Trent Central since 2010 and won with 39 percent of the vote in 2015, compared with about 23 percent for UKIP and the ruling Conservative Party.

The departure of Hunt poses another challenge to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who lags Prime Minister Theresa May in most opinion polls and has been repeatedly criticized by fellow members of Parliament even after the party’s rank and file backed his leadership last year. Lawmaker Jamie Reed said last month he is also quitting Parliament, forcing another tricky by-election upon Labour.

About 65 percent of voters in the constituency, located in the English midlands, backed Brexit, according to estimates by Chris Hanretty of the University of East Anglia. Having achieved its primary goal of winning the vote to quit the European Union, UKIP plans to challenge Labour in its traditional heartlands under new leader Paul Nuttall.

“UKIP will be fighting hard to offer local people the committed representation they both need and deserve,” party Chairman Paul Oakden said in an e-mail. “We have no doubt that the example set by Mr. Hunt will be one that many voters in Stoke-on-Trent will consider following in the upcoming by-election.”

Corbyn has struggled to articulate a Labour response to Brexit and UKIP has accused him of being out of touch with the party’s working-class voters. Hunt, 42, campaigned against Brexit and has publicly criticized Corbyn’s leadership.

“I congratulate Tristram Hunt on being named Director of the V and A,” Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said in an e-mailed statement. “He has a wealth of experience as a historian and a great passion for arts and culture that will serve him very well in this role.”

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