Brexit Fallout Hits U.K. Labour as Lawmakers Turn on Corbyn

  • Corbyn ‘Failed to give a strong message,’ Labour’s Coffey says
  • Brexit verdict in referendum triggered Cameron’s resignation

Lawmakers from the U.K.’s Labour opposition launched a bid to oust their leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying he failed to galvanize the party’s supporters to reject a Brexit in Thursday’s referendum.

Ann Coffey and Margaret Hodge submitted a motion of no-confidence in Corbyn to parliamentary party Chairman John Cryer on Friday, for consideration at the group’s weekly meeting on Monday evening.

“We wouldn’t have tabled it if we weren’t confident of winning it,” Coffey said in a telephone interview. Corbyn “did not show the leadership that was required during the EU referendum campaign. He failed to give a strong message and he failed to convince the public that he genuinely wanted to stay in the European Union.”

The Brexit vote has already claimed the scalp of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his resignation earlier Friday after campaigning vigorously to stay in the EU. The result sent the pound to its lowest level since 1985 against the dollar and prompted Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon to raise the prospect of a second independence referendum for Scotland, which voted to remain in the 28-nation bloc.

“I will not resign,” Corbyn told Channel 4 News in an interview to air this evening, according to a Twitter post from the broadcaster.

‘Too Late’

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’s announcement of 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, voted to leave the bloc on Thursday. The swing was flagged early in the vote count when Sunderland, a northeastern region whose three members of Parliament are all Labour, voted “Leave” by more than 60 percent.

“He started too late,” Hodge said of Corbyn’s campaign in a BBC Television interview. “He was very half-hearted in the leadership he gave to Labour over it.”

Survival Prospects

Corbyn’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment sent by text message. A spokesman for the leader didn’t answer his cellphone.

Even if Labour’s lawmakers vote to oust Corbyn, he could survive with the support of the wider party. Lawmakers determine who’s on the ballot in Labour leadership contests, and then the actual vote is taken by party members. Corbyn has relatively little backing among Labour parliamentarians, but he won election by a landslide last year.

Labour rebels have investigated the prospect of overthrowing their leader and concluded that it won’t be easy to keep Corbyn off the ballot, Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, said in a phone interview.

“I would be very surprised if it ends up with the exit of Jeremy Corbyn,” he said.

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