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Corbyn defiant after shadow cabinet stages mutiny against Labour leader

By Shaun Connolly

Published 27/06/2016

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in London
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in London
British Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox, arrives at Millbank television and radio studios in central London on June 26, 2016.
British Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell
Hilary Benn after appearing on The Andrew Marr Show
Members of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet who have resigned

Under fire Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to battle the co-ordinated attempt to topple him launched by his own shadow cabinet as he insisted he will not "betray" the trust of the party members who elected him.

A defiant Mr Corbyn dug-in for trench warfare with senior Commons colleagues after 11 members of the shadow cabinet quit his top team in despair at his ability to win a general election.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker was the eighth to quit.

One, shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant, warned Mr Corbyn risked going down in history as "the man who broke the Labour Party" unless he stood aside.

But in a tough talking statement Mr Corbyn insisted he would fight for his job and contest any leadership challenge.

"I was elected by hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members and supporters with an overwhelming mandate for a different kind of politics.

"I regret there have been resignations today from my shadow cabinet. But I am not going to betray the trust of those who voted for me - or the millions of supporters across the country who need Labour to represent them. Those who want to change Labour's leadership will have to stand in a democratic election, in which I will be a candidate.

"Over the next 24 hours I will reshape my shadow cabinet and announce a new leadership team to take forward Labour's campaign for a fairer Britain - and to get the best deal with Europe for our people."

The move came after a day of high drama at Westminster which saw critics take it in turn to ratchet-up pressure on Mr Corbyn by turning their backs on his shadow cabinet. Mr Bryant accused the Labour leader of deliberately undermining his party's own Remain campaign.

"Your inability to give a clear, unambiguous message to Labour voters significantly contributed to the result," Mr Bryant told the Labour leader.

The party's influential deputy leader Tom Watson said he is to hold emergency talks with Mr Corbyn today to "discuss the way forward" after the rebellion.

Mr Watson said he was "saddened" so many colleagues felt unable to carry on and "deeply disappointed" at the sacking of shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn which triggered the mass walkout.

He said: "My single focus is to hold the Labour Party together in very turbulent times. The nation needs an effective Opposition, particularly as the current leadership of the country is so lamentable.

"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."

As Mr Watson returned from the Glastonbury Festival to deal with the crisis, allies of the Labour leader insisted he had no intention of quitting, angrily accusing the rebels of plotting for months to get rid of him.

A series of senior trade unionists on Labour's ruling national executive committee rallied in support of Mr Corbyn, among them Unite leader Len McCluskey and Dave Ward of the Communication Workers Union.

There was also support from shadow home secretary Andy Burnham who said he had no intention of taking part in a coup against the Labour leader.

However, the rebels warned Mr Corbyn would be unable to form a new shadow team - with Labour MPs unwilling to serve under his leadership - if he tries to struggle on.

The revolt of the shadow cabinet was sparked by the dismissal of Mr Benn early yesterday morning following reports that he was orchestrating moves to mount a coup against Mr Corbyn.

First to go was shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander, then shadow minister for young people Gloria De Piero.

They were followed at intervals through the day by shadow education secretary Lucy Powell, shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy, shadow transport secretary Lilian Greenwood, shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray, Mr Coaker, shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer, shadow Treasury chief secretary Seema Malhotra and Karl Turner, the shadow attorney general.

Shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant also quit last night, while shadow housing minister John Healey is expected to quit.

Mr Coaker was one of the most experienced politicians in Mr Corbyn's shadow cabinet, having been elected to the Nottinghamshire constituency of Gedling in 1997.

East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson voiced his regret and said he hoped Mr Coaker would return to his office. He tweeted: "He is a true gent and real friend of NI. Trust when things settle, he'll be able to return to front bench."

Alliance leader David Ford said he was "very sad to see Vernon go". He added: "He has worked tirelessly for Northern Ireland over the years and was a good friend to all our people. He will be missed."

Announcing his decision to go, Mr Coaker told The Huffington Post: "The decision to leave Europe leaves the whole of the UK facing massive uncertainty and Labour now needs a strong and clear direction to serve as an effective opposition as we move forward, particularly if we face a general election in the next 12 months.

"I believe it is now time for the party to unite behind a new leader to ensure our MPs can serve the whole of the electorate as that effective opposition."

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