Friday 9 December 2016

Jeremy Corbyn sacks Hilary Benn after reports he was planning coup against him

Published 26/06/2016 | 07:42

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has sacked Hilary Benn after reports the shadow foreign secretary was planning to spearhead a coup against the leader.

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Simmering tensions within Labour over Mr Corbyn's role in the Remain campaign are threatening to boil over, just as senior Tories are preparing to fight for the party leadership after David Cameron announced his resignation on Friday.

Mr Benn told the BBC there was widespread concern among Labour MPs and in the shadow cabinet about Mr Corbyn's leadership and his ability to win an election.

"There is no confidence to win the next election if Jeremy continues as leader," he said.

"In a phone call to Jeremy I told him I had lost confidence in his ability to lead the party and he dismissed me."

A Labour spokesman told the Press Association: "Jeremy has sacked him on the grounds that he has lost confidence in him."

The sacking follows claims in the Observer that the shadow home secretary called fellow MPs over the weekend to take soundings about a putsch.

The party leader has faced accusations from his own MPs that he led a weak campaign in the EU referendum and is facing a motion of no confidence.

Mr Benn was reportedly planning to ask Mr Corbyn to stand down and had asked other senior frontbenchers to quit with him if the leader refused to budge.

But Mr Corbyn has made it clear he will fight any move against him by MPs and rely on the backing of grass root party members if it comes to a leadership challenge.

Labour former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw urged the shadow cabinet to act swiftly to "save" the party.

He said: "The Labour shadow cabinet must now act to save the party and for the sake of the country. Otherwise we will never be forgiven."

Some Labour MPs were quick to criticise Mr Corbyn over his decision to sack Mr Benn.

Shadow housing minister Roberta Blackman-Woods said: "This is sad news indeed and I cannot understand how Jeremy thinks it will help his worsening position with the PLP."

Labour MP Wes Streeting said: "Lots of good people chose to serve in shadow cabinet to keep the show on the road. There are no longer good reasons for good people to stay."

Labour's leadership turmoil comes as the Conservatives were consumed by their own post-referendum leadership frenzy.

The political backlash unleashed by Brexit saw pro-Remain Tories scramble to unite behind a candidate strong enough to try to stop Boris Johnson becoming prime minister.

Home Secretary Theresa May was consolidating her position as the main potential "Stop Boris" candidate, as Europe piled pressure on Mr Cameron to go before his stated departure date of October so that tough talks on the Brexit "divorce" deal can begin in earnest.

With the race for the Tory crown expected to move up a gear this week, with the backbench 1922 committee set to outline the time table for the contest, allies of Chancellor George Osborne moved to dismiss claims he was attempting to change party rules in a bid to damage Mr Johnson's chances.

Allies of Mr Osborne dismissed claims in The Sunday Times that he was manoeuvring to ensure a woman had to be one of the two candidates selected by MPs who then go on to a leadership run-off decided by party members.

"He has not discussed rule changes with anyone," a source said.

Other potential candidates made pointed interventions with Education Secretary Nicky Morgan warning in The Sunday Times that a Brexiteer-style tough stance on immigration would see the party thrown back into the "wilderness" if it went back to an "ideological comfort zone" in order to "appease the noisy fringes".

And Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb said in the same newspaper: "The referendum campaign highlighted deeply entrenched divisions in parts of Britain's society which demands a One Nation response focused on improving social mobility and breaking down barriers to opportunity."

With the EU growing increasingly impatient with Mr Cameron's instance to leave Brexit talks to his successor, French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault suggested he could be replaced in Number 10 within days.

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