Jeremy Corbyn’s team told the media Owen Smith had been sacked from the Shadow Cabinet before he had actually been axed, it has been revealed.
The former Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, who unsuccessfully challenged Corbyn for the Labour leadership in 2016, received a text on Friday from a political journalist asking if he had quit or been forced out of his post.
After speaking to the journalist, Smith discovered a member of Corbyn’s team was briefing the media about his dismissal – but he had received no call saying he was sacked
Corbyn was forced to apologise for the briefing when a conversation between the pair eventually took place, with the Labour leader telling Smith he had to go over his support for another referendum on the UK’s EU membership – a stance which is not party policy.
Speaking to comedian Matt Forde on Wednesday evening as part of his Political Party show in London, Smith also revealed Corbyn had “barely discussed” Northern Ireland with him during his ten months in the Shadow Cabinet.
Asked about his sacking, Smith said: “It was five to six on Friday of last week and I got a text from a political editor of a major newspaper in this country saying: ‘So did you jump or were you pushed?’
“I answered by saying: ‘As far as I’m aware I’ve done neither’.
“I then rang them up and found out what they’d been told and they’d been rung by somebody in Jeremy’s team to say that I’d been sacked and that Tony Lloyd was replacing me.
“So I put down the phone, rang the Today programme and waited for the phone call.
He went on: “25 minutes later I got a text from Jeremy saying that he was very upset at what I’d said in the Guardian and could I give him a ring.
“I gave him a ring and he told me he was very upset with what I’d said in the Guardian and wanted me to step down from the Shadow Cabinet.
“I said: ‘Are you sacking me?’ He said: ‘Well, I wouldn’t use those words, but yes.’”
After thanking Corbyn for giving him the opportunity to serve as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Smith said: “I then did tell him that I thought it was a bit of a raw deal to then tell the newspapers before he told me and he apologised for that.”
He added: “I’m not sure he knew.”
Smith refuted any suggestion that Corbyn tried to influence his actions in the role, given the Labour leader’s previous willingness to talk with Sinn Fein.
Smith said: “Bluntly, I’ve barely discussed Northern Ireland policy with Jeremy in past 10 months.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s true that he’s not bothered at all. He’s trusted me to deal with Northern Ireland policy in the past 10 months.”