A string of Labour shadow cabinet members have quit, with more walkouts expected, in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership over the EU referendum.
Heidi Alexander, Ian Murray, Gloria de Piero, Lillian Greenwood, Lucy Powell, Kerry McCarthy and Seema Malhotra quit.
It comes after Mr Corbyn sacked shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn.
Mr Corbyn faces a vote of no confidence following a “lacklustre” EU campaign but shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he “wasn’t going anywhere”.
Mr McDonnell and shadow cabinet members Andy Burnham, Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry have given Mr Corbyn their support despite the resignations.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker has said he is considering his position.
- Follow the latest developments on our live page
- Who’s who in the shadow cabinet
- Laura Kuenssberg: Corbyn office ‘sabotaged’ EU campaign
- Hilary Benn sacked from shadow cabinet
The Labour Party campaigned for Remain during the referendum, which saw the UK voting to leave the EU by 52% to 48% on Thursday.
But Mr Corbyn – who has been a long-standing critic of the EU and who is regarded as the most Eurosceptic Labour leader in years – was accused by some in his party of not making the case for the EU forcefully enough.
As a result, a motion of no confidence against Mr Corbyn has been submitted by Labour MPs Dame Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey – and it is expected to considered at the next meet of Labour MPs on Monday. A secret ballot could be held the following day.
Sources close to Mr Corbyn have said he would stand again in the event of any leadership election – and Mr McDonnell said he would chair his campaign again.
Meanwhile, union members on Labour’s National Executive are to call for unity and will support Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
And more than 175,000 people have signed an online petition backing the Labour leader, who was elected last September in a landslide victory.
But one shadow cabinet member told the BBC: “I imagine that there’ll be a leadership election and Jeremy will win. But this is a total distraction.”
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Mr Benn was sacked by Mr Corbyn overnight after he told him he had “lost confidence” in his leadership.
Speaking on Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Benn – who has ruled out any Labour leadership bid – said Mr Corbyn “is a good and decent man but he is not a leader”.
“At this absolutely critical time for our country following the EU referendum result, the Labour Party needs strong and effective leadership to hold the government to account.
“We don’t currently have that and there is also no confidence we would be able to win a general election as long as Jeremy remains leader. And I felt it was important to say that,” he added.
Asked if he thought Mr Corbyn should resign, he said he did but added “that is a matter for him”.
By Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor
The prime minister’s resigned. No one knows who the next occupant of Number 10 will be. And today, some of the most senior figures in the Labour Party are trying to push their leader out, too.
There have been concerns about Jeremy Corbyn’s performance for months and months. But it was his role, or lack of role, in the campaign to keep the UK in the EU, and his sacking of Hilary Benn in the middle of the night, that has given members of the shadow cabinet the final reasons to quit.
Several have already gone, as many as half will be gone by the end of the day, I understand.
And documents passed to the BBC suggest how Jeremy Corbyn’s office sought to delay and water down the Labour Remain campaign. Sources suggest that they are evidence of “deliberate sabotage”.
Hours after Mr Benn’s sacking, shadow health secretary Ms Alexander, who joined Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet last year, tweeted: “It is with a heavy heart that I have this morning resigned from the shadow cabinet.”
In a letter to the Labour leader, she wrote: “As much as I respect you as a man of principle, I do not believe you have the capacity to shape the answers our country is demanding and I believe that if we are to form the next government, a change of leadership is essential.”
Further walkouts followed throughout the morning, including:
- Ian Murray, shadow Scottish secretary – and Labour’s only Scottish MP
- Kerry McCarthy, shadow environment secretary
- Lucy Powell, shadow education secretary
- Gloria de Piero, shadow minister for young people and voter registration
- Lillian Greenwood, shadow transport secretary
- Seema Malhotra, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
But Mr McDonnell, speaking on Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics, was defiant, saying: “Jeremy is not going anywhere and will continue on.”
He said the party members were “sovereign” and added: “It’s the members who elected Jeremy and he’ll remain.”
Mr McDonnell said he was “disappointed” at the turn of events but he insisted the party would “come together”.
“I don’t think people had an awful lot of sleep since Friday. I think if we all had a day off and a good night’s kip we’ll be alright,” he said.
But shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott played down the prospect of a no confidence vote.
She said there was a “group” of Labour MPs who had never accepted Mr Corbyn’s election and accused them of “labouring under the illusion that Jeremy serves at their will and pleasure”.
“If they want a new leader of the opposition we must either have a proper leadership election – and this vote of confidence has no status in the (Labour Party) rule book – or they set up a new party,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics.
Shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry also stood by Mr Corbyn, saying she would not be stepping down – and that she was “bewildered” by those who were.
“We should be thinking about the nation first,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Politics, saying this was a time for Labour to “show some leadership” and be a “centre of calm”.
“Now, of all times, people think it is a good time to go for a leadership contest? I think it is extraordinary,” she said.
But others in the party calling for a change of leadership include Labour MP Ivan Lewis – who is running to be Labour’s candidate for the Greater Manchester mayoralty – who has written to Mr Corbyn calling on him to resign.
“Unfortunately, it is clear Jeremy Corbyn cannot lead us back to government and there is a real risk we will suffer a worse election result than in 2015,” Mr Lewis said.
Other MPs have spoken out against Mr Corbyn’s input in Labour’s EU referendum campaign, with MP Stephen Kinnock saying it “was not Labour’s finest hour”. Meanwhile, former Labour cabinet member Ben Bradshaw said Labour faced being “wiped out” at the next general election under Mr Corbyn.
Meanwhile, former shadow chancellor Ed Balls – who lost his seat as an MP at the 2015 general election – also backed calls for a change of leader.
“The reality is, at a time when you have a big divide between urban Britain, which wanted In and heartlands and rural Britain, which wanted Out, Jeremy Corbyn has managed to alienate both sides,” he told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.
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