The United Kingdom’s Labour party went into absolute meltdown Sunday, as leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to resign despite a mass resignation of his party’s leadership, who blame him for the success of Thursday’s Brexit vote.
Officially, Labour opposed Brexit, although party rank-and-file were hardly united in this opposition. About 37 percent of Labour voters backed the Leave campaign, and several historic Labour strongholds (like the city of Birmingham) voted outright in favor of Leave. Many blame party leader Jeremy Corbyn for Brexit’s success, accusing him of making a lackluster, unenthusiastic pitch for the Remain campaign. While Corbyn supported Remain, he has historically been a critic of the EU and is the party’s most Euroskeptic leader in some time.
Now, in the wake of Leave’s triumph, the party is tearing itself apart. Over the weekend no fewer than twelve members of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet (MPs who would assume cabinet posts if Labour took power) have either resigned or been forced out after declaring that they could not support Corbyn’s role leading the party.
The exodus started Saturday night, when shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn told Corbyn he had lost confidence in him, and Corbyn responded by firing him. In response, on Sunday elevent other shadow cabinet members handed in their resignations. Some of them released statements strongly denouncing Corbyn on their way out.
“Despite misgivings I made the decision that I would serve in your shadow team if you wanted me to do so,” former Labour House of Commons leader Chris Bryant said in a letter he sent to Corbyn. “You had been democratically elected and I believed it was in the interests of the party and the people we represent that we should all try and make a go of it … Last week changed everything. A major plank of Labour’s longstanding economic and foreign policy was defeated in the referendum and we effectively handed the right in this country their biggest victory in a century.”
Deputy party leader Tom Watson didn’t resign, but instead issued a lukewarm statement that failed to endorse Corbyn’s leadership.
“I was deeply disappointed to see Hilary Benn sacked in the early hours of this morning and equally saddened that so many talented, able and hard-working colleagues felt they had to leave the shadow cabinet,” Waston said. “My single focus is to hold the Labour party together in very turbulent times … 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.”
The revolt against Corbyn could grow in the coming days. Two Labour MPs have proposed a no-confidence motion against Corbyn, and the party’s MPs could vote on it as soon as Tuesday.
The denunciation of Corbyn isn’t total, though. Several other shadow cabinet members have announced they are remaining loyal to him. Corbyn also has received strong support from several British union leaders. The head of Unite, the U.K.’s largest union, accused party members of betraying the country’s interests and trying to ignore the will of Labour’s regular members, who overwhelmingly chose Corbyn as party leader last year.
In spite of all these attacks, Corbyn says he has no plans to resign, and if the party holds a new leadership election, he says he plans to run again.
Labour isn’t the only party in turmoil thanks to Brexit. Current prime minister David Cameron, who supported the Remain campaign, has announced he will resign later this year.
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