Jeremy Corbyn has revealed he had “a series of conversations” with Andy McDonald on Monday, when he announced his shock resignation from the shadow cabinet.
The former Labour leader threw his support behind McDonald, who has been accused by some in the party of attempting to undermine Keir Starmer with the timing of his resignation.
But Corbyn - who said he was “very close friends” with McDonald - called his resignation “principled” and said it was not part of a “deep-laid Machiavellian plot”.
Speaking at a Labour conference fringe event, Corbyn said: “We had a series of private conversations as very close friends.
“They were private conversations. I was there to give Andy support in whatever decision he decided to make.
“Andy worked very closely with us in the shadow cabinet and he took what was for him a personal and very difficult and very principled decision.
“If it had been a deep-laid Machiavellian plot to announce a resignation on a particular afternoon in Brighton, it would’ve leaked out weeks ago.”
McDonald resigned as shadow secretary of state for employment rights and protections on Monday in a row over the minimum wage.
The MP, an ally of Corbyn, said the leader’s office had instructed him to argue against a national minimum wage of £15 per hour and against statutory sick pay at the living wage.
“I joined your frontbench team on the basis of the pledges that you made in the leadership campaign to bring about unity within the party and maintain our commitment to socialist policies,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
“After eighteen months of your leadership, our movement is more divided than ever and the pledges that you made to the membership are not being honoured. This is just the latest of many.
McDonald’s resignation has proven to be another dividing line at what has been a fractious conference for Starmer, who is also under fire from the left for bringing in rule changes that are likely to make it harder for leftwing MPs to get on the leadership ballot.
Shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray said McDonald’s resignation “looks like deliberate sabotage” while Luke Akehurst, the director of Labour first and member of the party’s ruling national executive committee, accused McDonald of “grandstanding”.
Members of the party’s leftwing have, however, rallied behind McDonald.
Former shadow cabinet member Barry Gardiner also denied McDonald was part of a “Machiavellian plot”.
“If this had been some sort of Machiavellian plot, then why do you think Andy would’ve gone back to London?” he said.
“He was actually going to be speaking here about fire and rehire, which he’s absolutely passionate about.
“He knew that he could get an audience from himself and do that, if that had been something he had wanted to cause disruption by rather than simply a personal decision… then he would’ve been here, he would’ve been grandstanding.
“I really think it is wrong to try and say he was being manipulative, he’s not like that. He’s a really decent, honest, straightforward man.”
Labour members are expected to vote on a motion calling for a £15 an hour minimum wage at about 5pm on Tuesday.