Jeremy Corbyn is fighting to cling onto the leadership of the Labour Party, as shadow cabinet minister after shadow cabinet minister resigned from his frontbench in a series coordinated announcements spread over several hours.
Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson returned to London from Glastonbury on Sunday amid the crisis and has failed to give Corbyn his full backing. The two men are set to meet on Monday.
Corbyn's shadow cabinet began to unravel at 1am on Sunday morning, when he fired Hilary Benn. The shadow foreign secretary had called Corbyn to tell him he had "no confidence" Labour could win a general election with him as leader.
Over the course of the day, eleven shadow cabinet ministers quit. More are expected to follow.
Resigned: Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander, Shadow Minister for Young People Gloria De Piero, Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray, Shadow Transport Secretary Lillian Greenwood, Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell, Shadow Environment Secretary Kerry McCarthy, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Seema Malhotra, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Vernon Coaker, Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Faloner, Shadow Attorney General Karl Turner and Shadow Leader of the House Chris Bryant.
Late on Sunday evening, Corbyn insisted he would not be stepping down. "Those who want to change Labour’s leadership will have to stand in a democratic election, in which I will be a candidate," he said.
Angela Eagle and other key members of the Shadow Cabinet are demanding a meeting with Corbyn to urge him to step down.
The Huffington Post UK has learned Eagle, Lisa Nandy and John Healey want to meet with Corbyn on Monday to ask him to quit.
In his resignation statement, released late on Sunday evening, Bryant said unless Corbyn quit he would "go down in history as the man who broke the Labour Party".
Early on Monday morning, junior Labour shadow ministers also began to resign. Toby Perkins, Anna Turley and Diana Johnson all quit.
As the frontbench crumbled, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell ruled himself out of any contest to replace Corbyn. He insisted Labour was on a "path to victory" and told those plotting against the leader to "calm down".
Shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott, a close ally of Corbyn, told an emergency edition of BBC Question Time Labour MPs were using the Brexit result as an excuse to attempt a coup. "They have been talking about this for months," she said.
Momentum, the pro-Corbyn pressure group, is mobilising its members to demonstrate outside parliament on Monday evening against those calling for a change of leadership.
With a possible snap general election due this autumn, shadow ministers believe that there is no time to lose to get a new leader in place who is capable of putting up a fight against the Tories.
The bitter battle for the future of Labour came as MPs blamed Corbyn for failing to stop the Brexit vote in the EU referendum last week.
There was shock and anger within the party after the nation voted narrowly by 52% to 48% for the UK to leave the EU.
The Huffington Post UK revealed on Saturday claims by insiders that some in the leadership team had "sabotaged" Labour’s pro-EU referendum campaign.
Watson, who was at a silent disco at the Glastonbury Festival until the early hours of Sunday morning as the coup against Corbyn began, said this afternoon he was "deeply disappointed to see Hilary Benn sacked".
Having returned to London, Labour's deputy leader added he was "equally saddened that so many talented, able and hard-working colleagues felt they had to leave the shadow cabinet".
The Labour party must be ready to form a government Tom Watson statement on shadow cabinet resignations
The support of Watson is seen as crucial to Corbyn's survival - however he appears not to have been explicitly given it.
He added: "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."
Corbyn has insisted he has no intention of resigning and will stand in any leadership election.
He said: "I was elected by hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members and supporters with an overwhelming mandate for a different kind of politics.
"I regret there have been resignations today from my shadow cabinet. But I am not going to betray the trust of those who voted for me – or the millions of supporters across the country who need Labour to represent them.
"Those who want to change Labour’s leadership will have to stand in a democratic election, in which I will be a candidate."
His opponents are hoping he is not able to secure the support of enough MPs to get onto the ballot paper in a fresh leadership election. Corbyn only scraped into the contest at the last minute in 2015.
However legal advice given to the party seen by The Huffington Post UK has suggested Corbyn does not need MPs’ support to stand again.
The legal advice from Doughty Chambers lawyers, shows that the need to have 20% of MPs or MEPs’ nominations only applies to challengers, not to the ‘incumbent’.
The drama unfolded as the Conservative Party also prepared itself for a leadership election following the resignation of David Cameron on Friday.
TIMELINE OF LABOUR’S CIVIL WAR
1am: Jeremy Corbyn sacks Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn from his Shadow Cabinet. The sacking comes just hours after the Observer front page claims Benn was organising a coup against the Labour leader.
8.30am: Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander quits, telling Corbyn he does not have the “capacity to shape the answers the country is demanding”.
10am: Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell tells Corbyn’s critics to “calm down” and rules out ever standing for leader.
11.15am: Shadow Minister for Young People Gloria De Piero resigns. She tells Corbyn: “I do not believe you can deliver that victory at a general election, which may take place in a matter of months.”
11.30am: Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray quits. He later tells Sky News Labour are “barely ready for opposition, let alone an election.”
12.45pm: Shadow Transport Secretary Lillian Greenwood resigns. She says Corbyn is not capable of presenting a “credible alternative Government”.
12.56pm: Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell announces has resigned on Twitter. In her resignation letter she tells Corbyn he does not understand the concerns of “our traditional communities…sufficiently to re-engage” with them.
1.10pm: Shadow Environment Secretary Kerry McCarthy quits. McCarthy was seen as a Corbyn ally within the Shadow Cabinet, but told him today a “new leader is needed to take on the challenges ahead.”
1.45pm: Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Seema Malhotra resigns. She was John McDonnell’s deputy in the Shadow Treasury team and earlier today he was forced to deny Malhotra had been phoning MPs canvassing support on his behalf. In her resignation letter she tells Corbyn that with him as leader, Labour will not be able to “build bridges” across the party or reach out into the country.
5pm: Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Vernon Coaker quits.
6pm: Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Faloner quits.
7pm: Shadow Attorney General Karl Turner resigns "with a very heavy heart".
9.19pm: Shadow Leader of the Commons Chris Bryant quits. "We need someone new to unite and lead Labour," he says on Twitter.
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