Brexit Meltdown: Corbyn third of shadow cabinet, BoJo turns on Cameron, Sturgeon in Brussels talks
Jeremy Corbyn was fighting for his political life tonight after a third of the shadow cabinet quit and said he wasn’t the right person to lead Labour into a possible General Election this autumn.
As the implications of Britain’s exit from the EU reverberated around the political establishment, the focus of attention moved sharply away from David Cameron and the Conservatives and on to Labour’s bloody civil war.
One of the most dramatic and momentous periods in the party’s history began early this morning when Mr Corbyn telephoned shadow foreign secretary Hillary Benn and sacked him. Mr Benn had been named in a newspaper as the key figure in an attempted coup to get rid of the Labour leader.
That was followed by a pre-planned steady drip-feed of resignations from Mr Corbyn’s top team.
All of those quitting had the same message: “You are a man of integrity, but not the right person to lead Labour into a general election.”
And in other Brexit news:
- Boris Johnson told Sky News the Leave campaign has no plan for conducting exit negotiations with Brussels. He said Mr Cameron and Downing Street should have prepared contingency plans.
- Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said that not all of the supposed £350 million a week saved from Britain’s EU contributions would go to the NHS and insisted the Leave campaign “never said it would”.
- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged to open talks with Brussels to secure a continued place in the EU after declaring that a fresh referendum on independence is “highly likely”.
- Michael Gove said he would be backing Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister.
- A petition on the parliament website calling for a re-run of the EU referendum has attracted over three million signatures, but a formal investigation has been launched into fraud.
As things stand, the following shadow cabinet members have resigned:
Heidi Alexander (health), Gloria De Piero (young people), Ian Murray (Scotland), Lucy Powell (education), Kerry McCarthy (environment), Seema Malhotra (Treasury), Lillan Greenwood (transport), Vernon Coacker (Northern Ireland) and Lord Falconer (Justice).
In all, including Mr Benn, 10 out of 30 members have left the shadow cabinet.
There are reports that shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant and shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer are ready to follow.
Mr Corbyn’s lacklustre contribution to the EU referendum Remain campaign has been described as the last straw by many MPs, but behind that is the fear that a General Election may be called in the autumn and that Labour, in its present state of disunity, will be annihilated.
Months of suspicion that traditional Labour supporters in the Midlands and the north of England are turning to UKIP appeared to be confirmed by the referendum which saw a surge of support for the Leave campaign in working class heartlands.
There is a growing feeling that whoever takes over from David Cameron as Tory leader and prime minister will be forced into calling an election in order to acquire a mandate to govern, and if that happens in a febrile post-Brexit atmosphere scores of Labour MPs fear they will lose their seats.
Those behind the attempted coup hope the Labour leader will get the message and resign. This seems unlikely. Mr Corbyn’s official line is that “I am going nowhere” and he intends to stay on as leader.
He left his Islington home this afternoon for the House of Commons where he will attempt to fill the eight gaps in the shadow cabinet. There is speculation he may struggle to find enough supportive MPs to appoint a full team of front bench spokespersons.
Labour MPs will debate a motion of no confidence in Mr Corbyn at a meeting in the Commons tomorrow night, then vote on it on Tuesday June 28. Although the motion has no formal standing, rebels are hoping that if it is passed his position will become untenable.
If Mr Corbyn does not go voluntarily the next step will be to find at least 50 Labour MPs prepared to sign a letter demanding a leadership election.
One senior MP said: “It will be bloody and messy, but has to be done. The alternative is that we slowly bleed to death.”
Legal opinion is divided over whether Mr Corbyn would automatically go on the ballot paper in a new leadership contest. If he did, the widespread expectation is that he would win thanks to his continuing popularity among many party members.
Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey warned that any attempt to keep Mr Corbyn off the ballot paper for a leadership contest would result “in the break-up of the Labour party”.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, a key Corbyn ally, said he would not be a candidate for leader. Mr McDonnell added that he was ready to chair Mr Corbyn’s campaign committee again, as he did in last year’s leadership election.
Shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott – another of Mr Corbyn’s allies – accused the rebels of plotting their move for months.
“The truth about today’s coup attempt is that it has been long-planned,” she told BBC News.
“This has been planned for months and ordinary party members will not understand why Labour MPs want to set themselves at odds with the membership and, at this very difficult time, choose to play what are essentially Westminster games.”
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