Corbyn fights to maintain grip on Labour party after Brexit vote

After Corbyn sacked his foreign policy chief on Sunday, 11 of his top team of 30 lawmakers said they were stepping down. 'I am not going to betray the trust of the millions of supporters across the country who need Labour,' Corbyn said in a statement Photograph:( Getty )

AFP London Jun 28, 2016, 05.08 PM (IST)
British Labour Party lawmakers voted massively against their leader on Tuesday amid political turmoil in Britain after a vote to leave the European Union, as candidates to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron vied for power behind the scenes.

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn lost a non-binding confidence motion, with 172 Labour MPs voting against him and only 40 in favour out of a total of 229 Labour lawmakers in the House of Commons lower house. But the veteran socialist insisted he would not stand down.

"I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60 per cent of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning. Todays vote by MPs has no constitutional legitimacy," he said in a statement.

Five days after the shock referendum vote, the two parties that have dominated Westminster for nearly a century were in almost complete disarray.

Pro-EU finance minister George Osborne, long tipped to succeed Cameron, ruled himself out on Tuesday while British media reported that Work and Pensions Minister Stephen Crabb, a virtual unknown to the British public, would put his name forward.

Former London mayor and "Leave" figurehead Boris Johnson -- now a bogeyman for many in the "Remain" camp -- is tipped as one of the favourites.

The other is interior minister Theresa May who is reportedly seeking support for a rival bid that British media tipped as the "Stop Boris" campaign.

The Conservatives have set a Thursday deadline for nominations, and the party said the winner would be announced on September 9.

Cameron has said he would leave it to his successor to invoke Article 50 -- the formal procedure for exiting the European Union.On the opposition side, over half of Corbyns shadow cabinet -- the leadership of his party -- have now resigned since Sunday in a coordinated series of resignations against the 67-year-old, who only became leader in September.

Corbyn, a veteran socialist and eurosceptic who voted against EU membership in a 1975 referendum, has come under heavy criticism from pro-EU lawmakers for his lukewarm campaigning in favour of Britain staying in. Many experts have blamed the strong anti-EU vote in Labour heartlands in northern England on Corbyn.

But Corbyn himself has blamed Conservative austerity measures for creating disenchantment in many working-class areas, and said the media had not covered Labours referendum campaign, focussing instead on rifts within the ruling Conservatives.

The Conservatives are meanwhile scrambling to choose a successor to Cameron, who announced his resignation within hours of the Brexit result last Friday.

A new poll Tuesday put May in the lead with 31 per cent, against 24 per cent for Johnson.

Nominations for the party leadership open Wednesday, and close Thursday.

If more than two candidates stand, Tory MPs will vote next week to whittle down the field to two nominees, before the new leader is chosen by a postal ballot of party members, who currently number around 150,000.

The new Tory leader is expected to be announced on September 9, the party announced Tuesday.

Critics have questioned whether the "Leave" camp -- and Johnson in particular -- has any idea how to manage the unprecedented situation left by last week's vote.

"He has still to offer anything like a concrete plan on how he would negotiate the post-Brexit future," wrote former BBC political editor Nick Robinson.

He added: "The fallout from the biggest exercise in popular democracy has already been dramatic... It has, though, only just begun. The old order has been smashed. It may be a very long time -- not weeks, not months but years -- before the shape of the new order and the answers to all those questions become clear."