Brexit aftermath: Politics in Britain

Corbyn digs his heels in as pressure mounts

Mr Corbyn's critics say he could have done more to persuade voters to back staying in the EU.
Mr Corbyn's critics say he could have done more to persuade voters to back staying in the EU.

Eight more MPs desert him, he vows to stay as Labour's leader and names replacements

LONDON • Pressure on opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn continued to mount as more Labour Party lawmakers quit his shadow government, with many criticising him for failing to persuade voters to back staying in the European Union.

Eight Labour spokesmen resigned yesterday, adding to 11 departures on Sunday after he sacked foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn.

"You are not the right person to lead the party," shadow business secretary Angela Eagle, the most senior Labour figure to desert Mr Corbyn, wrote in her resignation letter, posted on Twitter. "You have lost the confidence of colleagues, and you have struggled to win the confidence of our voters and the wider public."

In an effort to shore up his position, Mr Corbyn announced 10 new appointments. Ms Emily Thornberry was named as foreign affairs spokesman, replacing Mr Benn. Ms Diane Abbott was appointed health spokesman to replace Ms Heidi Alexander, who resigned at the weekend.

Mr Corbyn yesterday met deputy leader Tom Watson, who told him that he has lost his authority in the parliamentary party, while stopping short of calling for him to quit, The Guardian newspaper reported.

A no-confidence motion, tabled last week by two MPs, was to be discussed at a meeting of Labour lawmakers. If accepted, a secret ballot of Labour legislators could be held today.

But Mr Corbyn has vowed to carry on as party leader. "I was elected by hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members and supporters with an overwhelming mandate for a different kind of politics," he said in a statement late on Sunday.

"Those who want to change Labour's leadership will have to stand in a democratic election, in which I will be a candidate."

Energy spokesman Lisa Nandy and shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith issued a joint statement saying a leadership contest is "inevitable" and that Mr Watson should steer the party as caretaker for now.

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

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

Many Labour MPs have been critical of him 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.

Any challenger to Mr Corbyn would need the support of 20 per cent of the party's 229 MPs and it would then be put to a vote by party members.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Corbyn digs his heels in as pressure mounts'. Print Edition | Subscribe