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Labour battle could end up in court over rules of engagement

By Arj Singh and Shaun Connolly

Published 12/07/2016

Angela Eagle
Angela Eagle

Labour's leadership battle looks more likely to end up in the courts with rebels and Jeremy Corbyn loyalists rowing over whether the leader should be able to stand in the contest automatically.

The party's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) will meet today before ruling on whether Mr Corbyn needs the nomination of 51 MPs and MEPs to stand in the contest, and has been presented with conflicting legal advice.

Deputy leader Tom Watson's spokesman said the NEC is considering Labour-commissioned advice which states that Mr Corbyn should not be given "special treatment" and will need to get the nominations.

But some NEC members have obtained legal advice from Michael Mansfield QC, which concludes that he does not need any nominations from MPs and MEPs.

Mr Mansfield's advice said: "The rules by which the Labour Party is governed are unambiguous: The leader does not require any signatures to be nominated in a leadership election where there is a potential challenger to the leadership."

Mr Corbyn has vowed to fight any possible exclusion of him from the ballot paper in the courts, and it is understood a legal challenge is likely to be launched by the anti-Corbyn camp if he is allowed to stand without the support of 51 MPs and MEPs.

The row broke out after Angela Eagle launched her bid to topple Mr Corbyn by insisting she is not on a "suicide mission" because of the Labour leader's strong support among the party membership, who will have the final say in the contest.

And she insisted it was time for Labour to have a woman leader amid reports that former frontbencher Owen Smith could launch a rival leadership bid.

Ms Eagle said: "The Conservatives have their second woman Prime Minister. The Labour Party, the party of equality who pioneered anti-discrimination - it's about time they had their first elected woman leader."

Mr Corbyn will press ahead with a planned speech to Unite in Brighton as sources said he has been told he cannot attend the NEC meeting.

It is possible that calls will be made at the NEC for it to be delayed until next week, when a meeting had been scheduled to be held.

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