Britain's Labour Party in turmoil over Brexit

Story highlights

  • Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn won’t resign, his spokesman says
  • He is facing calls to step aside after failing to persuade voters to remain in EU

London (CNN)The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party has vowed not to step down amid challenges to his leadership as the fallout from the UK’s momentous vote to leave the European Union continues.

“There will be no resignation of a democratically elected leader with a strong mandate from the membership,” a spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told CNN.
Corbyn fired shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn from his shadow Cabinet on Sunday following reports that he was planning a coup against his leadership, Britain’s Press Association reported.
British Labour MP Hilary Benn in London Sunday following his sacking from the shadow cabinet.

The agency quoted a Labour spokesman as saying: “Jeremy has sacked him on the grounds that he has lost confidence in him.”

    Under Britain’s parliamentary system, the shadow Cabinet is a senior group of opposition MPs tasked with criticizing the government’s policies; each is given a specific portfolio on which to act as spokesperson.
    Benn described the events that led to his sacking to the BBC Sunday, it had become “increasingly clear that there is growing concern in the shadow cabinet, in the parliamentary Labour Party about his leadership.”
    “I said to him that I no longer had confidence in his leadership. He then dismissed me from the shadow cabinet, which is understandable, and I thanked him for having given me the opportunity to serve as shadow foreign secretary,” he said.
    Corbyn has canceled a speech scheduled to take place at the Glastonbury music festival Sunday, his spokesman told CNN.

    Senior MP resigns

    Benn’s sacking was quickly followed by the resignation of Heidi Alexander, Corbyn’s shadow health secretary.
    She wrote in her resignation letter that in the wake of the referendum result, the country faced “unprecedented challenges,” and she believed a change of leadership in the party was “essential.”
    “As much as I respect you as a man of principle, I do not believe you have the capacity to shape the answers our country is demanding and I believe that if we are to form the next Government, a change of leadership is essential,” she wrote.
    Another prominent Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, tweeted his support for Benn, calling him “one of the finest Shadow Foreign Secretaries we’ve ever had and one of the nicest men in politics.”
    “Crazy to sack him,” he tweeted.
    He followed this with a tweet saying: “Either you look your flaws in the face and address them or you stick your head in the sand, destroy the Labour Party and the country suffers.”

    Pressure mounts on Corbyn

    Like Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his intention to resign Friday in the wake of the vote, the Labour Party campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU.
    But Corbyn, who became leader of the Labour Party in September, has been criticized for his lackluster performance in campaigning for the “Remain” camp.
    Pressure has been mounting for him to follow his rival Cameron and step down in the wake of the referendum result, which has fractured Britain’s political establishment.
    Corbyn’s close ally and shadow Cabinet member MP Dianne Abbott tweeted Friday that the Labour leader’s “position on Brexit was closer to the national mood than any other leader of a major party.”

    Divided kingdom

    The EU referendum bitterly divided the nation, with 51.9% of voters casting their ballots to leave and 48.1% voting to remain.
    The result was met with shock and anger in many quarters, sent the pound and markets plunging, and has left a leadership vacuum as the country faces an uncertain new future.
    Speaking to British media Sunday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that Britain losing access to the European single market following the Brexit vote would be “catastrophic.”
    Some “Leave” voters have expressed regret about their choice, saying they did not realize the consequences would be so great, and an online petition calling on the government to hold have a second, “do-over” referendum on the issue has gathered more than 3 million signatures.
    The “Leave” vote could lead to the fracturing of the United Kingdom itself. Scotland — whose voters overwhelmingly backed remaining in the EU — is likely to seek independence for a second time this decade as a result of the vote, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says.
    Northern Ireland’s vote for continued EU membership has similarly prompted a call by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for a poll on a united Ireland.