Jeremy Corbyn defended his “extremely popular” policies and blamed Brexit for Labour’s devastating defeat as he announced he would stand down as leader after overseeing a “period of reflection”.
With the Tories expected to cruise to a comfortable majority, a deflated Mr Corbyn said it had been a “very disappointing night”, with support crumbling in former Labour heartlands.
Mr Corbyn acknowledged that he had to leave Labour’s helm after suffering a second General Election defeat as he criticised media “attacks” towards himself, his family and the party.
“I want to also make it clear that I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign,” he said as he accepted victory in his Islington North constituency.
“I will discuss with our party to ensure there is a process now of reflection on this result and on the policies that the party will take going forward.
“And I will lead the party during that period to ensure that discussion takes place and we move on into the future.”
Labour MP Anna McMorrin, who retained Cardiff North, said she blames Mr Corbyn for the party’s election defeat.
She told the PA news agency: “In the last few weeks of the campaign we knocked on around 15,000 doors, and a large proportion of those people we spoke to, the issue was Jeremy Corbyn.
“He’s shown tonight that he’s lost good, decent, hard-working Members of Parliament up and down the country, who are needed for this country to rebuild and to ensure that we’re protected and represented and that we create a fairer society.
“That can’t happen now, and I think the only person who can take responsibility is our leader.”
Asked if Labour lost traditional seats like Wrexham because of Mr Corbyn, Ms McMorrin said: “I think so.”
Ms McMorrin, asked if she wanted to see Mr Corbyn stand down as leader immediately, said: “Yeah, I think we need to rebuild quickly now, or start the process at least of rebuilding the party.”
Labour’s Jess Phillips told ITV: “I’m devastated. I don’t know how you could have any other reaction other than being utterly heartbroken.”
Ms Phillips was asked if it was Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn or policies that were too far to the left which caused the Labour defeat and she said it was “all of those things and many other things”.
She added: “And the Labour Party is now on its fourth election defeat. It hasn’t won a general election since 2005. This is not a time for easy answers, as much as I wish it was, I wish there was some silver bullet but I also wish I was a size 10.”
The General Election exit poll forecast Labour to shed 52 seats to secure 191 – the party’s poorest result since 1935. And it put the Tories as securing 368 seats, giving the party a majority of 86.
Mr Corbyn defended putting forward a “manifesto of hope” that would help wrong the injustices and inequalities gripping the nation and tackle the climate crisis.
“All of those policies were extremely popular during the election campaign and remain policies that have huge popular support all across this country,” he said in the Sobell Leisure Centre in Holloway, north London.
“However Brexit has so polarised and divided debate in this country it has overridden so much of a normal political debate and I recognise that has contributed to the results that the Labour party has received this evening all across this country.”
Mr Corbyn ran as an outside candidate for the party leadership in 2015 and managed to outlast two Tory prime ministers.
The veteran campaigner, joined at the election count by wife Laura Alvarez and emotional colleagues, said he will remain as MP in the constituency he has represented since 1983.
Labour’s official line was to blame Brexit for dominating the discourse, but the leader was coming under mounting pressure to depart after being cited as being the greater problem on the doorstep.
A leadership battle that could once again expose deep divisions in the party is set to follow.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary who is believed to be eyeing a Labour leadership bid, won back her Islington South and Finsbury seat at the same venue as Mr Corbyn.
She attacked the “duplicitous, gutless, reckless” Prime Minister, adding: “We may be hurting tonight but we are not beaten. We will tell Boris Johnson no our fight is not over our fight is just starting.”
The Labour leader’s critics had been lining up to blame him for handing victory to the Tories.
Ian Murray, who previously served as shadow Scotland secretary under him and is trying to retain Edinburgh South, rejected the official narrative.
“Every door I knocked on, and my team and I spoke to 11,000 people, mentioned Corbyn,” he said.
“Not Brexit but Corbyn. I’ve been saying this for years. The outcome is that we’ve let the country down and we must change course and fast.”
Labour’s Gareth Snell predicted his own defeat ahead in the Brexit-backing former stronghold of Stoke-on-Trent Central and was calling for Mr Corbyn’s resignation.
“I’m going to lose badly and this is the start of 20 years of Tory rule,” he added to the PA news agency.
Phil Wilson, who lost Tony Blair’s former seat of Sedgefield to the Tories, was highly critical of the Brexit defence.
“For @UKLabour leadership to blame Brexit for the result is mendacious nonsense. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was a bigger problem. To say otherwise is delusional,” he tweeted.
“The party’s leadership went down like a lead balloon on the doorstep.”
Former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw, who was trying to retain Exeter for Labour, said he has the data to show the “overwhelming negative” among every voting group was the leadership and not Brexit.