EU referendum morning briefing: Benn sacked, as Tories scramble to 'Stop Boris'

Big Ben, Westminster

Well, that was an unexpected night.

The big picture

Most people – and newspapers – went to bed on Saturday night thinking (if this is the kind of thing they think about on a Saturday night) about divisions in the Conservative party, as MPs jostle to take over from David Cameron at No 10. “Tories at war” screeched the Sunday Telegraph front page.

And then at 1am, Jeremy Corbyn sacked Hilary Benn from the shadow cabinet.

So to an already crowded Sunday morning agenda – the Tory party leadership strife, the small matter of the UK negotiating its way out of the European Union – we now add a Labour leadership crisis. Whether the departure of the shadow foreign secretary is a further wobble that tips a shaky ship or a decisive act by Corbyn (given a report in the Observer that Benn had been marshalling opposition to the party leader) might well depend on what you thought of the whole thing before 1am.

In a statement issued at 3.40am, Benn said:

In a phone call to Jeremy, I told him … I had lost confidence in his ability to lead the party and he then dismissed me from the shadow cabinet.

Benn expanded on those reasons:

It has now become clear that there is widespread concern among Labour MPs and in the shadow cabinet about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of our party.

In particular, there is no confidence in our ability to win the next election, which may come much sooner than expected, if Jeremy continues as leader.

At this critical time for our country, following the result of the EU referendum, we need strong and effective leadership of the Labour party that is capable of winning public support so that we can stand up for the people of Britain.

A spokesman for Corbyn said Benn had lost the Labour leader’s trust.

Corbyn had earlier on Saturday acknowledged tremors within the party, as several MPs (including Tristram Hunt and Stephen Kinnock) spoke out openly against him:

Yes, there are some people in the Labour party, and the parliamentary Labour party in particular, who probably want someone else to be the leader – I think they’ve made that abundantly clear.

Corbyn heckled at Pride in London

European leaders have insisted that Britain begin moves to leave the EU right away. An emergency meeting of ministers from the bloc’s six founder members on Saturday resulted in an assertion by Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that negotiations should begin “as soon as possible”.

Prominent pro-Leavers, including Boris Johnson, have said there is no rush to trigger article 50, which begins a two-year countdown to exit. Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, who voted out, writes in the Observer today:

There is no need to plunge into tabling article 50 now, whatever Mr Juncker may want. The period of informal negotiation prior to an article 50 process will be crucial and should not be rushed. We should engage widely as we take the negotiation forward.

German chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to agree, telling a news conference on Saturday:

Quite honestly, it should not take ages, that is true, but I would not fight now for a short time frame. The negotiations must take place in a businesslike, good climate.

In the meantime, there’s also the vexing question of who the prime minister will be. Cameron has said he’ll be out of Downing Street by October, which has sent Tory MPs skittling.

The “Stop Boris” camp could be grouping around home secretary Theresa May. Or education secretary Nicky Morgan, writing in the Sunday Times today about the need to “heal divided communities and to build a truly United Kingdom”. Or work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb, who writes in the Sunday Telegraph about the need to “mend our divided society”. Or even George Osborne, who’s presumably hoping colleagues will have forgotten about the “punishment budget” falling-out.

The Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman thinks these could be the runners and riders. (Let me save you a trip to google: Freeman is George Freeman, minister for life sciences. Yeah, that guy. No, me neither.)

You should also know:

Poll position

After that petition to parliament to trigger a second referendum topped 2.7 million signatures, a ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror found 39% of respondents thought there should be a re-run, with 50% saying the result should be honoured and 11% admitting they just didn’t know, can you please go away and stop asking about this, I have a headache.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Post claims a new poll puts support for Scottish independence at 59% following the Brexit vote. On Saturday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would lobby member states directly to find a way for Scotland to remain part of the EU. A second independence referendum was, she said, “very much on the table”.

Diary

It’s possible there might be some tweaks to the guestlists on the Sunday morning TV shows but here’s what we know:

  • The Marr show at 9am has rounded up Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan Smith, Sajid Javid, Nicola Sturgeon and John McDonnell.
  • Peston on Sunday at 10am has Sturgeon again, plus Philip Hammond, Esther McVey and Ed Balls.
  • BBC Sunday Politics, also at 10am, has Martin McGuiness and Stephen Kinnock.
  • A special post-Brexit Question Time on the BBC at 10.35pm sees Dominic Raab, Anna Soubry, Diane Abbott, Alex Salmond, Paul Nuttall and Guardian columnist Giles Fraser on the panel.
  • Away from the telly, Piotr Serafin, Donald Tusk’s head of cabinet, holds a press conference ahead of the EU summit in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Read these

So Benn has been sacked. What happens if there is a leadership contest, wonders Stephen Bush in the New Statesman:

Much depends on the disposition of Labour’s 20 MEPs. Prior to Britain’s Brexit vote, they were believed to be the most sensitive to the concerns of the party’s activists, as Labour members vote on the order of the party’s list, making anti-Corbynites vulnerable.

Now all 20 MEPs are out of a job at or before the next European election regardless, the question is whether they decide to keep Corbyn off the ballot or try to curry favour with Corbyn’s supporters in the membership prior to making a bid for seats at Westminster.

Jeremy Paxman, writing in the Telegraph, says the Brexit result has exposed a gaping chasm:

The political leaders of any of the main parties have more in common with each other than they have with many of their foot-soldiers, and the referendum has made that plain. This is clearly one of those issues (capital punishment is always said to be another) on which the governing class and the people they purport to represent are entirely at odds.

David Cameron knew that a referendum was a constitutional nonsense, and that potentially one day a House of Commons overwhelmingly made up of people who believe in the European Union would have to pass the laws to leave it.

Anne McElvoy in the Mail on Sunday says pro-Brexit voters who wanted an end to free movement might not get their wish:

Less than an hour after Cameron announced he would stand down, I interviewed Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary. He knows the realities and constraints of our EU dealings inside out.

The price of free trade access to Europe’s large single market will, he told me, be retaining freedom of movement with only cosmetic tweaks. Without that commitment the EU has no reason to keep trade with Britain free of barriers that will do us severe economic damage. That might not be what the jubilant Brexiteers want to hear this weekend. It is nonetheless true.

You’ve likely already clicked to it, but Nick Cohen in the Observer is excoriating on Boris Johnson and Michael Gove:

The media do not damn themselves, so I am speaking out of turn when I say that if you think rule by professional politicians is bad wait until journalist politicians take over. Johnson and Gove are the worst journalist politicians you can imagine …

Never has a revolution in Britain’s position in the world been advocated with such carelessness. The Leave campaign has no plan. And that is not just because there was a shamefully under-explored division between the bulk of Brexit voters who wanted the strong welfare state and solid communities of their youth and the leaders of the campaign who wanted Britain to become an offshore tax haven. Vote Leave did not know how to resolve difficulties with Scotland, Ireland, the refugee camp at Calais, and a thousand other problems, and did not want to know either.

The day in a tweet

And the Greens are having their own leadership contest, too, though of course it’s all rather more civil.

If today were a Blur song ...

It would be Sunday Sunday: TV, old soldiers, talk of the past, two world wars, “the England he knew is now no more”, Songs of Praise, sleep.

And another thing

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Claire Phipps, for theguardian.com on Sunday 26th June 2016 06.57 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010