Labour in crisis: shadow ministers resign in protest against Corbyn

Gloria De Piero has become the latest high-profile MP to resign from Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet, with more than half of the team expected to stand down on Sunday in a coup against Jeremy Corbyn, triggered by the result of the EU referendum and the leader’s decision to sack Hilary Benn.

Several members of shadow cabinet told the Guardian they were writing their resignation letters after Heidi Alexander, the shadow health secretary, stepped down on Sunday morning. Minutes after De Piero quit, it also emerged that the shadow Scotland secretary, Ian Murray, had resigned.

De Piero, who speaks out for young people, has become the next high-profile member to step down. She told Corbyn in a resignation letter: “I have always enjoyed a warm personal relationship with you and I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve in your shadow cabinet. I accepted that invitation because I thought it was right to support you in your attempt to achieve the Labour victory the country so badly needs.

“I do not believe you can deliver that victory at a general election, which may take place in a matter of months. I have been contacted by many of my members this weekend and It is clear that a good number of them share that view and have lost faith in your leadership.”

The Guardian understands that the shadow transport secretary, Lillian Greenwood, is likely to step down soon also.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said Corbyn was going nowhere, and questioned if his opponents had got enough sleep since the EU referendum last week, in a move that could anger colleagues. He said: “We are on the path of building a majority government for Labour ... I think they should calm down and listen to their members.”

The resignations came as over 170,000 people signed up to a petition entitled a “vote of confidence in Jeremy Corbyn after Brexit”.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow defence secretary and a Corbyn ally, said the public would not forgive the parliamentary party if it launched a bid to unseat its leader. “Now is not the time to be indulging in a leadership campaign. I really don’t understand why this is happening now,” she said.

Meanwhile, every Labour MP received a letter from Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey, who have submitted a no-confidence motion to be voted on this week. They say they were motivated to act against an “ineffective leadership” because of the “very real prospect” of a general election this year. “We believe that under Jeremy’s leadership we could be looking at political oblivion,” they wrote.

“We all see at first-hand the terrible problems that exist in our constituencies and we can’t do anything about them while the Tories run the country. We believe Jeremy is standing in the way and preventing us from securing the confidence of a majority of voters. Ukip is targeting our traditional heartlands,” they added.

Momentum, the grassroots political movement that helped Corbyn to secure the leadership, has cranked up its own operations and is already planning to run phone banks to ensure that its 100,000 supporters are ready to help shore up the leader.

But the Guardian understands that some of the most loyal shadow cabinet members are preparing to walk out, followed by more junior frontbenchers, and then interventions by council leaders, in a coup designed to destabilise the leadership.

A Labour source said Alexander’s decision to resign in the wake of Benn’s dismissal would prove hugely significant, because unlike the shadow foreign secretary she was a more “loyal and pragmatic” member of the Corbyn team.

In her resignation letter to Corbyn, Alexander said: “It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to you to resign from the shadow cabinet ... 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.”

The Guardian understands Angela Eagle, Lucy Powell, Lisa Nandy, Chris Bryant, Luciana Berger, Gloria De Piero, Charlie Falconer, Ian Murray, Rosie Winterton and Andy Burnham could be among those to resign from the Labour front-bench on Sunday.

A spokesman for the leader insisted he has no intention of resigning. “Jeremy Corbyn is the democratically elected leader of the Labour party and will remain so,” the spokesman said.

An ally added: “They don’t have a candidate, they don’t have a programme, they don’t have the supporters to win a leadership election. Rather than self-indulgent destabilisation, they should work with the Labour leadership to respond to the a momentous national event that needs a united Labour party.

“He is not going to resign, and if there is a challenge he will fight it. Anyone that resigns can be replaced. It is obviously disappointing and a distraction. If they want to challenge Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership they can collect the nominations and stand. He will be standing for election.”

Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary and Corbyn’s staunch ally, said some her colleagues had been planning to launch a coup for months, whatever the result in the EU referendum.

She called the challenge to his leadership “a recipe for unhappiness” and called for the party to fall into line, saying his opponents could not challenge either the unions who back Corbyn or the membership, which overwhelmingly supports him. “This has been planned for a long time. There has been a plan to challenge Jeremy for a long time, because many have failed to reconcile themselves with his victory last year.”

Hilary Benn speech in full: ‘We must now confront this evil’

Benn turned on Corbyn after being sacked as shadow foreign secretary in a late-night phone call, telling the Labour leader that MPs and shadow cabinet members have “no confidence in our ability to win the election” under his leadership.

Corbyn sacked Benn in the early hours of Sunday morning after the Observer revealed that the shadow foreign secretary was preparing to lead a coup against him.

Shadow cabinet members told the Guardian that Corbyn’s decision to sack Benn could cause a mutiny. One loyal member said they were “staggered”. Another added: “A bad-tempered sacking is likely to lead to more trouble for Jeremy.”

The mass resignations from the shadow cabinet will destabilise his leadership, and are likely to trigger a direct challenge. Corbyn’s team believe that he has the automatic right to be back on the ballot paper, knowing that he might struggle to get enough MPs to nominate him. But others disagree.

A Labour source said: “When Jeremy Corbyn nominated Tony Benn in 1988 against the democratically leader of the time, Neil Kinnock, Benn and Kinnock had to get nominations.” © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010