POLITICS

Hilary Benn Insists He Will Not Quit Shadow Cabinet Amid Labour Turmoil Over Syria Vote

27/11/2015 08:45 GMT | Updated 27/11/2015 09:59 GMT
LEON NEAL via Getty Images
Leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn (L) speaks with with Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn on day two of the annual Labour party conference in Brighton on September 28, 2015. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Hilary Benn has insisted he will not resign as shadow foreign secretary amid a revolt against Jeremy Corbyn from within his own frontbench over his opposition to airstrikes against Isis in Syria.

Yesterday David Cameron set out his case to MPs for why Britain should join the United States and France in bombing Isis targets in Syria. The prime minister wants parliamentary authority to deploy the RAF.

A majority of Corbyn's shadow cabinet want to vote with Cameron. However Corbyn is opposed. The split has led to rumours in Westminster that some of the Labour leader's top team may quit over the issue.

Labour MPs John Spellar and Fiona MacTaggart have both this morning called for Corbyn to quit. Spellar told BBC Radio 5 Live: "If anyone resigns over this it should be Jeremy Corbyn". And MacTaggart said she believed the Labour leader's position was "unsustainable".

Benn told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning he was not going anywhere. "I'm not going to resign, because I am doing my job as the shadow foreign secretary," he said.

Benn said he believed military action was necessary and argued the United Nations Security Council "could not have been clearer" that military strikes were required.

The shadow cabinet on Monday to make a final decision about how Labour will vote. Corbyn is under intense pressure not to try and force his MPs and shadow cabinet to vote against action and instead at least offer the ma free vote.

Asked if he wanted a free vote to be offered, which would allow the shadow cabinet not to formally rebel against their own leader, Benn told Today: "It may be that’s where we end up."

A decision by the majority of the shadow cabinet to vote in favour of strikes against Corbyn's orders would be a direct challenge to the Labour leader to sack them.

However shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott, a close ally of Corbyn who opposes military action, insisted the shadow cabinet was not entitled to vote down the leader and said she was confident they would come to the "right decision".

"I know what views party members will take if MPs ignore the views of the people at the grass roots and try and take this issue to the brink," she said during a round of broadcast interviews.

"Jeremy appoints the shadow cabinet – not the other way round. You cannot have a shadow cabinet voting down the leader of the Labour Party who has just been elected with the biggest mandate in history."

There was anger among some Labour MPs after Corbyn issued a letter following Thursday's meeting saying the prime minister had failed to make a "convincing case" and that he could not support further military intervention.

The move was seen by some as an attempt to pre-empt next week's shadow cabinet meeting while appealing over the head of MPs to the grass roots members who swept Corbyn to the leadership.

The turmoil in Labour ranks complicate Cameron's calculations as to whether he has got the numbers to win a Commons vote on extending air strikes against IS - currently restricted to Iraq - into Syria.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly said he will not seek the support of the House unless he is certain of winning as defeat would hand a propaganda victory to the extremists.

But with some Conservative MPs still opposed to further military intervention, he is likely to need the support of a significant number of Labour MPs to ensure he gets the outcome he wants.

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