Jeremy Corbyn refuses to resign after Brexit — but his party might force him out

Months after a stunning victory propelled him to the helm of Britain's Labour Party, Corbyn is facing an open revolt after a no-confidence vote passed 172-40.
June 30, 2016, 8:30pm
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home. (Photo by Neil Hall/Reuters)

Britain's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been called a "catastrophic failure" by members of his own party for fumbling its message to remain in the European Union. He's seen more than 40 Labour members of Parliament resign this week, and been dealt an overwhelming no-confidence vote in which 172 MPs voted against his continued leadership, and 40 voted for him to stay.

During a tense session in the House of Commons this week, even his own MPs shouted at him "Resign! Resign!"

But despite fierce pressure, Corbyn — who was elected leader nine months ago with a whopping 59.5 percent of the vote — is digging his heels in, denouncing the no-confidence vote as having "no constitutional legitimacy" — even as the party's members and supporters fear a split could be on the horizon.

"I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60 percent of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning," Corbyn said in a statement after the no-confidence vote Tuesday, amid calls for his head.

The Labour Party's rules state that anyone wishing to unseat Corbyn needs 20 percent of Labour MPs and MEPs, according to the Guardian, which also reports that party officials are still debating whether 50 or 51 supporters are needed to oust him. According to UK paper The Express, a spokesperson for Corbyn's office said, "If MPs want to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, they will have to do so in a democratic leadership contest."

If a leadership race is triggered, it's unclear whether Corbyn would need to be nominated again in order to appear on the ballot, or whether his nomination would be automatic as he's the current leader.

If there is a leadership race, it would likely be decided at the party's annual convention in late September, the Guardian reported. In a normal leadership race, candidates must be nominated for the leadership race, and then party members and registered supporters vote. There is reportedly no official mechanism to call an earlier contest.

The names of Labour politicians who could take on Corbyn on have already been floated in the press. Former shadow cabinet member Angela Eagle was expected to announce her interest in vying for the Labour leadership, but she backed down Thursday evening, giving no official reason.

Those who have stuck by Corbyn say his enemies are nothing but bullies, and he still has the support of the party's membership.

Corbyn's shadow cabinet collapsed after 21 figures resigned from their positions over a 48 hour period, triggered in part by the firing of shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn in the early hours of Sunday.Benn told British media he was fired after telling Corbyn he had lost confidence in his leadership.

As she resigned this week, Labour MP Ruth Smeeth called Corbyn's leadership a "catastrophic failure," and said the party needed a replacement with "the backbone to confront racism and anti-Semitism."

'Leading the party is a privilege not a right.'

"Leading the party is a privilege not a right," former deputy party leader Harriet Harman said. "You earn the opportunity to lead by being elected, to lead the whole party, our voters, members, councillors and MPs."

The protest resignations of the Labour Party MPs follow the exit of Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced last week he would step down following the vote in favor of leaving the European Union. Cameron, who pushed for Britain to remain in the EU, said his party needed fresh leadership.

Initially considered an underdog and called an "obscure backbencher" by the BBC, Corbyn was able to tap into a younger vote that propelled him into the leader's chair last year in a shocking result. "The thing about Jeremy Corbyn, whether you agree or disagree with him, is that he has a new narrative and I think that's what's exciting people," University of Essex professor Paul Whitely told the BBC before the leadership election in 2015.

Founded in 1900, the Labour Party leans centre-left and has roots in socialist and union movements. The party became the UK's official opposition last year when it won 232 seats in the general election.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont