Corbyn Confronts Dissent as U.K. Political Chaos Deepens

Updated on
  • Labour leader speaks in interview on BBC’s ‘Andrew Marr’ Show
  • Labour feud combines with Tory leadership fight amid Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn said he’ll confront a challenge to his U.K. Labour Party leadership head on as the fallout from the vote to leave the European Union sparks a splintering of his opposition group.

Corbyn, 67, has been battered since the watershed June 23 referendum. Dozens of his front-bench team have quit, he lost a no-confidence vote by a 172-40 margin and party elders have called for him to go. He faces a formal challenge on Monday when his former business spokeswoman, Angela Eagle, says she’ll announce a leadership bid.

“You would be surprised how much support there is out there from people who feel that I was elected a year ago with a very large majority and a very large mandate,” Corbyn said in an interview on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “We’re a party that’s going places and doing very well actually.”

Corbyn’s defiant tone sets the stage for more turbulence in U.K. politics. 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 trading bloc. The pound has plunged to the lowest against the U.S. dollar in three decades.

Analysis: Brexit Could Weigh on the U.K. Economy for Decades

Eagle, who said Corbyn has lost the confidence of his own party, set out her pitch for the leadership in an interview with Robert Peston on ITV.

“The country has now got huge challenges,” Eagle said. “It’s threatening our economy and it’s hurting people. We could have a very quick general election and I believe I’m the right person to lead the party into that election.”

The fracturing of the Labour party may soon by joined by legal uncertainty. There are questions about whether the party’s rule book would allow Corbyn to stand without enough backing from his members of parliament. While Eagle said that was a matter for Labour’s governing body -- the National Executive Committee -- she also pointed out leaders hadn’t automatically been on the ballot paper in the past. Corbyn said he’s been consulting lawyers and was confident of his position. He also dismissed questions about his ability to cope with the pressure.

“There’s no wobbles, there’s no stress and there’s no depression,” he said.

Jeremy Corbyn

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Long at the left fringes of the party, Corbyn began last year’s leadership election as a 200-to-1 outsider before surging to a surprise win with 60 percent of the vote in the wider party. A long-standing Euroskeptic who followed the pro-EU party line during the campaign, he waited two months before making his first big speech against leaving, and took a vacation in the campaign’s closing weeks.

“I worked flat out” for the ‘Remain’ camp, Corbyn said in response to a question from Andrew Marr about his vote. “I’m surprised you even asked that.”

Labour has dissolved into open conflict at a time when the ruling Conservatives are also in disarray. Andrea Leadsom sparked a furor when she suggested in an interview with the Times that being a mother might make her a better prime minister than her rival, Theresa May.

Tim Loughton, Leadsom’s campaign manager, responded on the same BBC show that the party "establishment" doesn’t want her to be prime minister. David Davis, a May supporter, said on the same program that Leadsom is too inexperienced to be prime minister “at the most difficult time in our history.”

Writing in the Sun on Sunday, May repeated her assertion that “Brexit means Brexit” and there “must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it by the back door and no second referendum.” The comments may be an attempt to head off criticism that she won’t represent the majority of voters who chose to leave the EU.

The support that might count for Leadsom is from Leave.EU, bankrolled by Arron Banks, the Brexit campaign’s biggest donor. It is using access to its 96,000 followers on Twitter and 770,000 likes on Facebook to make the case for the underdog. He said in an interview on BBC on Sunday that May would be “the death of Brexit by a thousand cuts.”