David Lammy has ruled himself out of the running for Labour leader, saying he is “not the individual best placed for this role at this time”.
He suggested that he was seen as too anti-Brexit to win back Leave voters that Labour lost at the general election.
In a hint that he is eyeing up a prominent shadow cabinet role, Mr Lammy told The Independent he wanted to make a “full contribution” to the task of uniting Labour after its crushing election defeat.
Raising the prospect of a leadership bid last month, Mr Lammy said he believed he should “be part of the heavy lifting to get this party back into power” and would “think seriously” about running for leader.
He promised to make a decision over the Christmas period on whether to stand.
The former universities minister has been a prominent opponent of Brexit and a vocal campaigner for a second referendum. He called for the Brexit vote to be overturned by parliament just two days after the 2016 referendum.
Mr Lammy told The Independent that he believed this meant he would struggle to win back Leave voters who abandoned Labour at the general election, and had therefore decided to stand aside.
He said: “I believe Brexit is an historic mistake, which is why I voted against Article 50 and was the first MP to call for a referendum on any Brexit deal. I deplore the rising xenophobia that has occurred in the wake of [the] 2016 [referendum] and the populist nationalism that is being whipped up by a once mainstream political party led by Boris Johnson.
“I am emboldened by the many people who share my view and have been humbled by the many members of the Labour Party and the wider British public who, over the past weeks, have sent messages, emails and tweets encouraging me to stand as a candidate to be the next Labour leader.”
He continued: “A key role for the next Labour leader is to win support from and foster unity between different vociferous factions of our party, so that we can win back the trust of our country. I am not the individual best placed for this role at this time.
“However, overcoming polarisation does not mean abandoning principles. I look forward to making a full contribution to this project of coming together and will back whichever candidate I judge to be most capable of leading it.”
Last month, a BMG poll for The Independent suggested Mr Lammy was the fourth most popular choice for Labour leader among voters, behind Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, and backbenchers Yvette Cooper and Jess Phillips.
A separate survey of party members by YouGov found that Sir Keir is the strong favourite, with 31 per cent listing him as their top choice. He is some way ahead of his main rival for the job, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey, who is on 20 per cent.
Ms Phillips is currently third, on 11 per cent. Mr Lammy was not included in the survey.