A surge of Remainer votes to stop Nigel Farage saved Labour from defeat, anti-Brexit campaigners claim.
Nigel Farage’s was just 683 votes off winning in the Peterborough by-election, and Labour’s vote share fell by more than 17 pecentage points compared to the 2017 general election result.
It gave Labour a 31% share of the vote compared to the Brexit Party’s 29% share.
Anti-Brexit campaigners said that Labour’s “fudged Brexit position will leave them vulnerable at the ballot box.”
Naomi Smith from Best for Britain said: “This was a near-miss for Labour – who were saved by a rush of support from remainers determined to deny a seat for the Brexit Party. They should be thanking those pro-EU voters who have saved them.
“Peterborough has always been a marginal seat for Labour. Now, if it wants any chance of holding this seat convincingly, it must commit to a final say on Brexit.”
Labour MP Clive Lewis said it was “a real close shave”.
“By failing to check the Brexit Party in the EU elections we’ve allowed Nigel Farage and his Party to gain millions of pounds of EU MEP funding they can now throw into staff and a ground campaign game. They clearly haven’t been able to mobilise this new resource for this by-election to full effect. They will in the very near future though and that should concern us.
“Let’s face the facts. We were saved by a surge in support from remainers who wanted to keep the Brexit Party out. Their help was invaluable at such a crucial time.”
He added: “Labour must unambiguously back a final say on Brexit as soon as possible.”
The Conservatives saw their result drop by 25 percentage points, putting them in third place.
Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson offered his “commiserations” to Conservative candidate Paul Bristow who “did not deserve to come third”.
He said: “Conservatives must deliver Brexit by 31st October or we risk Brexit Party votes delivering Corbyn to No 10.”
Guto Bebb MP, former Conservative minister and leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said the result was a warning for the Tories.
“Firstly, if we continue to legitimise and normalise the most extreme options on Brexit, we will divide our vote and destroy our reputation as a party that stands for the national interest. A no-deal crash out from the EU will be bad for business, will bring chaos to public life and is an obsession of a small group of hard-core ideologues.
“Secondly, any new Conservative leader risks handing power to Jeremy Corbyn if he or she attempts to bypass parliamentary opposition to their preferred form of Brexit by calling a General Election.
“The rise of the Brexit Party has dramatically lowered the threshold Corbyn needs to reach to seize power in an election. Last night’s results illustrated that perfectly – Labour’s candidate crossed the line with just 31% of the vote while the Conservatives were a distant third place in a constituency we held until two years ago. Any prime minister calling an election in these circumstances before Brexit is resolved would be guilty of an extraordinary act of hubris.”
Nigel Farage, who left the count before the result was announced, said the result showed that his party had shaken up British politics and called for Tories to vote tactically for the Brexit Party in future Westminster contests.
He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “What you have seen from this result last night is that British politics has fundamentally changed, it is no longer just two parties contesting,” he said.
Calling for Tories to vote tactically for his party, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The danger is that, in seats like this, the Conservatives split the Leave vote.”
The Liberal Democrats were in fourth place with 4,159 votes and the Green Party received 1,035 votes.
Lib Dem candidate Beki Sellick tweeted: “4x vote share and spoke up for the non-UK EU citizens who have no vote and all other scapegoats.”
She added: “We are the only credible #stopbrexit party standing up for equality and the environment; protecting jobs and public services.”
Green MEP Catherine Rowett tweeted: “Well done Peterborough in such very difficult times! Especially well done to those who got the Green message out. Best Green vote ever, better than 2015! Hurrah for those who voted Green! And sympathy for the myriad voters who would have liked to vote Green but were too afraid.”