The leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, sacked his shadow foreign minister on Sunday, media reported, after he said he would resist any attempt to oust him.
Corbyn has been criticised by some of Labour’s elected lawmakers who say he did not campaign hard enough in support of EU membership, and had failed to convince millions of voters in the party’s heartlands to back “Remain”.
Hours after the 52 to 48 per cent vote in favour of Brexit, or a British exit, which triggered financial and political turmoil across the globe, two lawmakers submitted a motion of no confidence in Corbyn. Others have also called for his resignation.
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Corbyn sacked shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, The Observer newspaper said.
“It is understood that Benn had called fellow MPs over the weekend to suggest that he would ask Corbyn to stand down if there was significant support for a move against him,” The Observer newspaper said. “He had also asked shadow cabinet colleagues to join him in resigning if Corbyn ignored that request.”
A spokesman for Benn declined to comment, the newspaper added.
Corbyn informed Benn that he was sacking him because he had lost the Labour leader’s trust, the newspaper quoted a Corbyn spokesman as saying.
Other British media also reported Corbyn’s sacking of Benn.
In his first speech since the vote, Corbyn on Saturday emphasised the large mandate given to him by party activists at a leadership contest last year, in which he was swept to victory on a wave of support for his left-wing political agenda.
Asked whether he would stand for re-election in any leadership contest, he said: “Yes, I’m here.”
“There are some people in the Labour Party … who would want probably somebody else to be the leader of the Labour Party, they’ve made that abundantly clear.
“What I’m totally amazed by is that in the past 24 hours 140,000 people have said they do not want the Labour Party to spend the next two months debating the leadership,” he said, citing an online petition calling for him to remain leader.
Benn also publicly disagreed with Corbyn in September over air strikes on Syria. The decision to extend bombing to Syria divided the party, opposed by Corbyn but supported by Benn in a passionate speech in parliament.
Around one third of Labour voters are estimated to have backed a British exit from the EU on Thursday, with many of those coming from traditional working class areas where high immigration tops the list of public concerns.
Responding to criticism from Labour colleagues that he had failed to address those concerns, Corbyn said there needed to be a national dialogue on immigration to reach a new settlement.
“We can’t duck the issue of immigration, clearly it was a factor,” he said. “We need to start an open and honest debate.”
Corbyn said Thursday’s vote showed a backlash against the EU principle of free movement. But he added that if Britain wanted to retain access to the European single market – one of many issues cast into doubt by the vote – he believed it would have to accept free movement as a condition of that deal.
“If we were part of the single market in future, then clearly that would be accompanied by the continuing free movement of people,” he said.