UK Labour leader faces revolt over Brexit campaign
June 26 2016 06:16 PM
Demonstrators hold up placards as they protest outside the British Parliament in central London
Demonstrators hold up placards as they protest outside the British Parliament in central London

AFP/London

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced a revolt on Sunday over his handling of Britain's EU referendum as seven members of his top team resigned and others seemed set to follow.

Corbyn's allies said he had no intention of resigning, but his future looked shaky amid accusations that he is ill-equipped to deal with the fallout from Britain's seismic decision to quit the bloc.

‘He's a good and decent man but he is not a leader, and that's the problem,’ Labour MP Hilary Benn told BBC television after being sacked as foreign affairs spokesman late Saturday for challenging Corbyn's leadership.

His departure triggered a wave of resignations on Sunday, including health spokeswoman Heidi Alexander, education spokeswoman Lucy Powell, Scottish spokesman Ian Murray and transport spokeswoman Lilian Greenwood.

‘As much as I respect you as a man of principle, I do not believe you have the capacity to shape the answers our country is demanding,’ Alexander wrote in her resignation letter to Corbyn, which she published on Twitter.

She later told ITV television: ‘I think that there are a fair number of people who do feel similarly to me.’

One third of Labour voters chose to leave the European Union in Thursday's historic vote, against the advice of the majority of their party's MPs and the leadership.

Critics say Corbyn -- who for decades had expressed eurosceptic views -- could have done more to sway voters.

Two Labour MPs tabled a vote of no confidence in Corbyn on Friday, which is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) on Monday.

But the veteran socialist has indicated he is going nowhere, as did his allies.

Labour finance spokesman John McDonnell told BBC television: ‘He was elected nine months ago, the biggest mandate of any political leader in our country, and he is not going anywhere.’

‘It's a stupid question. He's not going to stand down,’ the party's defence spokeswoman Emily Thornberry told Sky News television.

 

- 'Civil war' -

Corbyn supporter Diane Abbott, the party's international development spokeswoman, accused the rebels of plotting their move ‘for months’.

Many Labour MPs have been critical of Corbyn since his unexpected election last September in a vote by party members.

But they said the voter revolt over the EU, the resulting turmoil and the possibility of an early general election following the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron made his position untenable.

‘If a general election is called later this year, which is a very real prospect, we believe that under Jeremy's leadership we could be looking at political oblivion,’ Margaret Hodge, who tabled the no confidence motion, wrote in a letter to fellow Labour MPs.

In a sign of the chaos, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson was reportedly trying to make his way back to London on Sunday after attending Glastonbury music festival.

Andy Burnham, a former government minister who fought Corbyn for the party leadership and lost, refused to back the revolt.

‘At an uncertain time like this for our country, I cannot see how it makes sense for the opposition to plunge itself into a civil war,’ he wrote on Twitter.

Any challenger to Corbyn would need the support of 20 percent of the party's 229 MPs and it would then be put to party members, who are strongly supportive of the leader.

It was not immediately clear who might stand against him. Benn ruled himself out, while McDonnell also said he would ‘never stand for the leadership’.



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