Jeremy Corbyn hit back at his Labour critics, warning them against “factional manoeuvring” after two-thirds of his shadow cabinet quit in an open revolt against his leadership.
The Labour leader, whose authority is in tatters after his Referendum performance, said voters “would not thank” any party that “indulged” in plotting. He is likely to face a challenge for his position after losing 20 members from his top team and a raft of junior frontbenchers in less than 24 hours as months of frustration exploded into full-blown rebellion.
Mr Corbyn, who has vowed to fight on, was jeered as he used a Commons appearance to hit out at the rebels “indulging” in manoeuvres against him. He added: “Our country is divided and the country will thank neither the benches in front of me nor those behind me for indulging in internal factional manoeuvring at this time.”
At a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party later the leader was told “for your sake, but most importantly for the sake of the people who need a Labour government, do the decent thing”.
MPs also called on him to “search inside yourself and ask if the electorate really think you are a prime minister in waiting”, and he was told he “couldn’t offer leadership”.
Chris Bryant, former shadow Commons leader, said: “The writing on the wall is eight metres high and if he can’t see it he needs to go to Specsavers.
“The only person who can solve this for the Labour party and break the log jam is Jeremy himself. This is a battle for the soul of the Labour Party.” Former communities minister Ian Austin said the “overwhelming majority of speakers were critical of Jeremy and saying he should stand down”.
He added: “I have never seen a meeting like it but it’s a big moment for the Labour Party.”
The Labour leader was flanked by stony-faced deputy leader Tom Watson in the Commons, who had earlier told him he had “no authority” among MPs.
The Labour leader’s official spokesman conceded most of the speakers were “opposed to Jeremy’s view or fairly hostile” during the meeting.
Mr Corbyn “has made it absolutely crystal clear that he is not going to concede to a corridor coup or a backroom deal which tries to flush him out”, he said. “It’s all about whispering in corridors, meeting together and people resigning from their appointed posts, but Jeremy Corbyn was overwhelmingly elected by the members of the Labour Party.”
The leader will not “betray” the people who elected him, the spokesman added. Seumas Milne, director of strategy and communications, said: “There is one way if people want to change the leadership of the party – that is to stand a candidate, get the nominations and mount a challenge and have an election.
Former home secretary Alan Johnson, who ran Labour’s campaign for a Remain vote, claimed Mr Corbyn’s office had undermined the effort.
Despite Mr Corbyn’s insistence he was firmly behind the Remain cause, he has a history of Euro-scepticism and the party’s MPs have publicly questioned his commitment.
In an e-mail to colleagues, Mr Johnson said: “I was proud to work with some great people who tried their very best to get the result we all wanted. Nobody in the leadership had the right to undermine their efforts.” But a spokesman said: “Jeremy is disappointed by Alan Johnson’s remarks about the leader’s office. They are unfounded and appear to be aimed at undermining the Labour leadership.”
The revolt has seen two-thirds of the shadow cabinet leave, including Ian Murray, Labour’s only MP in Scotland, while the party’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon, and chief whip Lord Bassam are set to boycott meetings of the top team while Mr Corbyn remains in place.