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UK election campaign hots up on Brexit day that never was

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AFP London
Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought Thursday to blame the opposition Labour leader for his failure to deliver Brexit, as both men stepped up campaigning on the day Britain had been due to leave the EU.
Johnson is riding high in opinion polls ahead of the December 12 election but risks a backlash over failing to keep his "do or die" pledge to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31.
"Today should have been the day that Brexit was delivered and we finally left the EU," the Conservative leader said in a statement.
"Despite the great new deal I agreed with the EU, (Labour leader) Jeremy Corbyn refused to allow that to happen -- insisting upon more dither, more delay and more uncertainty for families and business."

Pro-EU campaigners breathed a sigh of relief that Britain had been given a stay of execution to avoid a Halloween Brexit nightmare, after stark predictions of chaos and disruption.
Johnson had vowed he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than tolerate another extension to the tortuous process, which began in 2016 after a knife-edge public referendum.
But he was forced to ask the EU to delay Brexit until January 31 after MPs in the House of Commons refused to approve the withdrawal terms he had struck with Brussels.
Labour leader Corbyn laid the blame squarely at Johnson's door, ridiculing the prime minister's past remarks.
Johnson "said that he would rather be dead in a ditch than delay beyond today, but he has failed and that failure is his alone. You can't trust a word," the veteran socialist said.
The fourth new Brexit deadline of January 31 will inevitably loom large in campaigning for what is the third general election in four years and the first in December since 1923.
But Corbyn is seeking to shift the debate onto more domestic subjects such as health and social care, and education.
More than three years after the referendum that has increasingly divided Britain, Labour remains split over Brexit.
Its promise of a new public vote within six months of election has not been matched with details on how it would campaign.
"We'll let the people decide whether to leave with a sensible deal or remain. It really isn't that complicated," Corbyn told the London rally.
"And we, the Labour government, will carry out whatever the people decide." But he refused to answer a direct question over whether he would vote for his own deal or for remaining in Europe in the second referendum.
"It's not about me, it's not any individual on this platform, it's not a presidential election," Corbyn said.
Trying to move beyond Brexit, Corbyn pledged to pursue the most "radical" agenda ever seen in Britain, handing "wealth and power in the hands of the many," eliminating poverty, lowering rents, ending university tuition fees, and introducing free medicine.
Business leaders have claimed Labour's renationalisation plans of certain key industries, including the railways, would cost at least GBP 196 billion (USD 254 billion, 227 billion euros).
Johnson on Wednesday warned that Labour's plans could trigger "economic catastrophe", while he himself pledged to "invest massively" in the state-run health service and education.
A National Institute of Economic and Social Research study, published on Wednesday, however, suggested Johnson's Brexit deal could leave Britain GBP 70 billion worse off in 10 years.
Almost 60 MPs have announced they will not stand in the coming election, including many of them on the more moderate side of Johnson's Conservatives.
Among them is cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who partly blamed abuse she has received for her decision to step down after nine years in parliament.
Divisions over Brexit have seen sometimes toxic rhetoric on all sides, while death threats against lawmakers and abuse on social media have risen in recent years.
Morgan described the "clear impact on my family and the other sacrifices involved in, and the abuse for, doing the job of a modern MP".
Long-standing Conservative MP Caroline Spelman, who is also retiring, warned of a "wild west of internet abuse".
An average of 86 MPs stood down in each general election between 1979 and 2015, according to Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.

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First Published: Oct 31 2019 | 7:35 PM IST

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