British Politics in Turmoil as Benn Calls on Corbyn to Resign

Post-Brexit Battle for Labour Party's Leadership
  • Decision comes after Corbyn fires foreign spokesman Benn
  • Cameron allies try to stop Johnson after leading ‘Leave’ drive

The turmoil engulfing British politics worsened as the country’s biggest parties descended into chaos after last week’s shocking European Union referendum result. 

Senior Labour lawmaker Hilary Benn was fired after calling on Jeremy Corbyn to quit as party leader, triggering the resignation of seven other members of Corbyn’s team. In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is ramping up plans for a possible second independence referendum, while floating the idea she could block a U.K. exit from the EU. And the campaign to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron is underway, with the Sunday Telegraph reporting his allies will try to stop Boris Johnson from getting the job.

As infighting grips the country’s two biggest parties, investors, executives and the EU’s other 27 nations are waiting for the U.K. to spell out the mechanics of how it plans to leave the EU following the June 23 referendum. The pound plunged to the lowest since 1985 and stocks plummeted after the result.


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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Brussels and then London on Monday to discuss the situation with the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

EU Meets

Labour Battle

The battle for the Labour party’s leadership matters because it will have a seat at the table when the establishment sits down to work out what sort of relationship it wants with the EU. There are also calls for a snap election before talks with the EU begin, meaning that a popular leader who gets a grip on the party has the potential to be the next prime minister.

Corbyn, a long-standing Euroskeptic who voted against EU membership in 1975, ran a low-key campaign for staying in this time. He didn’t make his first speech on the topic until two months after Cameron announced the referendum, and in his rare media appearances he repeatedly highlighted the EU’s flaws, even while arguing for a “Remain” vote. Large swathes of Labour heartlands in northern and central England, as well as Wales, ended up voting to leave the bloc on Thursday.

“There is growing concern in the Shadow Cabinet and the parliamentary party about his leadership,” Benn said.

Next Prime Minister

As Labour’s internal feud worsens, the Conservative Party is debating who will be the next prime minister. The Sunday Telegraph, citing people familiar with the situation, said that Cameron’s allies are accusing Johnson and Michael Gove, who broke with the prime minister to lead the “Leave” campaign, of misleading voters. Home Secretary Theresa May, who wanted to stay in the EU, has emerged as an alternative candidate to Johnson, the newspaper said.

Johnson will declare his candidacy next week and has no plans to call a snap election if he wins, the newspaper reported.

Former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC that it would be “very, very difficult for the public who have voted for leaving the European Union to find they have a prime minister who opposed leaving the European Union.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will host French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Berlin on Monday. The heads of what will be the EU’s three biggest economies once the U.K. is excluded are expected to discuss their response ahead of a meeting of the bloc’s 28 leaders in Brussels on Tuesday.

There are differences within the governments on how tough a line to take with Britain, with the political power vacuum in the U.K. also complicating the issue.

Corbyn may survive a Labour leadership challenge thanks to his popularity with the party membership, but he has lost authority among many of its lawmakers. Those pushing for him to go fear that whoever replaces Cameron will call a snap election, at which Labour will need a clear position on its attitude to the European Union and a leader who looks like a potential prime minister.

Corbyn, a long-time Euroskeptic who voted against EU membership in 1975, ran a low-key campaign for staying in this time. He didn’t make his first speech on the topic until two months after Cameron announced the referendum, and in his rare media appearances he repeatedly highlighted the EU’s flaws, even while arguing for a “Remain” vote. Swathes of Labour’s traditional heartlands in northern and central England, as well as Wales, voted to leave the bloc.

‘Not a Leader’

“There is growing concern in the Shadow Cabinet and the parliamentary party about his leadership,” Benn said. “Jeremy is a good and decent man but he’s not a leader. And that’s a problem.”

Among the Shadow Cabinet members who resigned were the party’s education spokeswoman, Lucy Powell, and its health spokeswoman, Heidi Alexander.

In the Conservative Party, Cameron’s allies are accusing Johnson and Michael Gove, who broke with the prime minister to lead the “Leave” campaign, of misleading voters, the Sunday Telegraph reported, citing people familiar with the situation. Home Secretary Theresa May, who wanted to stay in the EU, has emerged as an alternative candidate to Johnson, the newspaper said. 

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Johnson will declare his candidacy next week and has no plans to call a snap election if he wins, the newspaper reported.

Scotland’s Response

Former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC on Sunday that it would be “very, very difficult for the public -- who have voted for leaving the European Union -- to find they have a prime minister who opposed leaving the European Union.”

Adding to the confusion, Sturgeon suggested Scotland could block a so-called Brexit because the necessary legislation might have to be approved in its parliament in Edinburgh.

“Looking at it from a logical perspective, I find it hard to believe that there wouldn’t be that requirement,” she told the BBC. “I suspect the U.K. government will take a very different view on that, and we’ll have to see where that discussion ends up.”

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