Eagle Quits U.K. Labour Leadership Race; Smith Faces Corbyn

Updated on
  • Sole Corbyn challenger in party’s best interests, Eagle says
  • Eagle to be Smith’s ‘right-hand woman’ if he wins contest

Angela Eagle pulled out of the race for the leadership of the U.K.’s Labour opposition and said she’ll back a bid by Owen Smith to challenge the current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who’s lost the confidence of most of his members of Parliament.

“I didn’t think it was in the interests of the party that this carried on,” Eagle told reporters in London on Tuesday after she and Smith sought nominations from Labour lawmakers to challenge Corbyn. She said she had decided it was “in the best interests of the party that we come together” to find a sole candidate.

Eagle, who quit Corbyn’s team of senior spokespeople last month, set in train the leadership contest by announcing a run against Corbyn last week. That followed weeks of speculation about her intentions after a vote of no confidence by Labour lawmakers, which passed by 172 votes to 40. Smith, who also resigned from Corbyn’s team, formally launched his bid Sunday.

There’s no guarantee that Smith, who was the party’s spokesman on work and pensions until he quit, can oust Corbyn, who remains popular with many rank-and-file party members for policies that include backing the renationalization of the rail network and opposition to nuclear weapons. Most Labour lawmakers argue that Corbyn lacks credibility as a possible prime minister and that his lukewarm campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union contributed to last month’s Brexit vote. Smith told Sky News television he fears the party may split if Corbyn holds on to the leadership.

Smith also pledged that Eagle, the ex-business spokeswoman, would have a top job in his team if he wins. “Angela is a star in the Labour firmament,” he told the BBC. “She will be at my right hand throughout this contest and if I am successful, Angela will be at my side as my right-hand woman.”

Smith said he’s ready to “take Jeremy on on the issues and on the policies” and promised a “gentle” leadership contest, in a nod to the infighting in the party in recent months.