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Labour's leadership battle could end up in court

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 on Tuesday 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 members of the NEC 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 challenge.

Ms Eagle told Channel 4 News: "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 the policy conference of Unite in Brighton on Tuesday 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.

Meanwhile, Mr Watson told a meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that his abandoned peace talks with union leaders had failed to find a way around the impasse between MPs and pro-Corbyn elements of the party.

He said: "For years I've been told I'm a fixer.

"Well I've tried to fix this, I've really really tried and I've failed.

"I've tried to find a way forward for the party between two apparently irreconcilable decisions.

"Clearly the vast majority of the PLP has already made it clear they wouldn't countenance a settlement that involved Jeremy staying in place."

Mr Watson's spokesman said the deputy leader acknowledged that Mr Corbyn has a big mandate from members just like he does in his elected role.

But Mr Watson told the PLP "with power comes responsibility and if 80% of the PLP had said they had no confidence in me I would resign, despite the fact I have a big mandate from members".

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