Jeremy Corbyn battles for survival as cabinet members walk

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in London. Picture: PA
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in London. Picture: PA
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The turmoil engulfing the British political establishment after the Brexit vote has left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn fighting for his survival after a day of shock resignations among his frontbench team.

The crisis gripping the UK is now the most acute since the Second World War, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday, as she branded the lack of leadership on the part of the main Westminster parties “shambolic and frankly disgraceful”.

Possible candidates to replace David Cameron as Prime Minister 
kept a low profile over the weekend as they took soundings about support for leadership bids, although leading Leave campaigner Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Theresa May look increasingly like the two frontrunners.

Meanwhile Ms Sturgeon warned the Scottish Parliament could attempt to block the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

She said: “At a time when the whole of the UK needs leadership probably more than at any period of the post-war period we’ve got the Conservatives and Labour party completely abdicating responsibility.”

Mr Corbyn faced a revolt by Labour’s top team as eleven shadow ministers quit in protest at his leadership during the EU referendum campaign. Deputy leader Tom Watson will hold emergency talks with Mr Corbyn today to “discuss the way forward”.

Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray was among the shadow cabinet members to quit, insisting Mr Corbyn should stand down as he did not have the qualities required to lead the party.

Mr Murray said: “I just don’t think that Jeremy Corbyn is able to lead us and to be prime minister and I’m not just doing this in public.

“I raised it at shadow cabinet on Friday, at our emergency shadow cabinet. I did say to Jeremy and the shadow cabinet directly, I did not think at this time that he could be prime minister and if he thought he could be prime minister then he’s talking to the wrong people.”

MPs will today discuss a motion of no confidence in Mr Corbyn, tabled by veteran backbencher Dame Margaret Hodge, at the weekly meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party. Mr Corbyn’s allies insisted he will not bow to pressure to stand down.

Yesterday’s series of shadow cabinet departures began when shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn was sacked by Mr Corbyn in the early hours. This was followed by a series of apparently staged announcements which saw eleven members quit.

Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell, shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander, shadow minister for young people Gloria De Piero, shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy, shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood, Mr Murray and shadow Treasury chief secretary Seema Malhotra all resigned.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker, Lord Falconer, the shadow justice, shadow attorney general Karl Turner also quit as did shadow House of Commons leader Chris Bryant.

But Lothians MSP Neil Findlay, who organised Mr Corbyn’s leadership election campaign in Scotland nine months ago, condemned the walkouts.

Mr Findlay said: “Labour members will rightly be outraged by those who are involved in a coup against the leadership.”

Unite leader Len McLuskey also branded the resignations “divisive and unnecessary”.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, one of Mr Corbyn’s closest allies, insisted the party leader is determined to carry on.

Mr Watson said: “My single focus is to hold the Labour Party together in very turbulent times. The nation needs an effective opposition, particularly as the current leadership of the country is so lamentable. It’s very clear to me that we are heading for an early general election and the Labour Party must be ready to form a government.

“There’s much work to do. I will be meeting Jeremy Corbyn tomorrow morning to discuss the way forward.”