Brexit: UK’s Labour party in turmoil as key member sacked, others to quit

  • AFP, London
  • Updated: Jun 26, 2016 16:06 IST
British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech following the pro-Brexit result of the UK's EU referendum vote. (AFP Photo)

Britain’s opposition Labour party plunged into turmoil Sunday and the prospect of Scottish independence drew closer, ahead of a showdown with EU leaders over the country’s seismic vote to leave the bloc.

Two days after Prime Minister David Cameron resigned over his failure to keep Britain in the European Union, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced a revolt by his lawmakers who called for him, too, to quit.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will also fly first to Brussels and then onto London on Monday, amid dismay in Washington over Britain’s decision.

Read: British bracing for world economy to punish UK for ‘Brexit’

European leaders have called for a swift divorce amid fears of a domino-effect of exit votes in eurosceptic member states that could imperil the integrity of the 28-country alliance.

But Britain’s political world is in disarray, while two new polls on Sunday showed a surge in support for independence in Scotland, where voters defied the national mood and chose to stay in the EU.

A pro-Scottish independence sticker is pictured on the side of a telephone box in Edinburgh, Scotland following the pro-Brexit result of the UK's EU referendum vote. (AFP Photo)

European leaders meet on Monday to discuss the result, which wiped $2.1 trillion from global equity markets Friday amid fears of a new threat to the global economy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will host French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and EU President Donald Tusk for talks in Berlin.

Cameron is then due to attend a summit of EU leaders on Tuesday to explain Britain’s decision.

Britons cast aside warnings of isolation and economic disaster to vote 52 percent to 48 percent in favour of quitting the EU in Thursday’s referendum.

The historic vote, fought on the battlefronts of the economy and immigration, exposed deep divisions in the country that politicians are scrambling to respond to.

Read: ‘No need to write, David, just say it’: Impatient EU to Cameron on Brexit

Cameron has said he will stay on until a successor is found from within his governing Conservative party, which could take until October, at which point the new prime minister will launch the EU exit negotiations.

But EU foreign ministers on Saturday urged Britain not to delay, with France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault directly calling on Cameron to go quickly.

“A new prime minister must be designated, that will take a few days but there is a certain urgency,” he told AFP.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Britain’s exit talks should not “drag on forever” but said that until they were completed, Britain would remain a fully-fledged EU member.

“There is no reason to be nasty in the negotiations. We have to follow the rules of the game,” she said.

Labour revolt

Likely candidates to succeed Cameron, including Brexit campaigner and former London mayor Boris Johnson, began sounding out support over the weekend.

The referendum decision has also lit a fuse under disgruntled members of the Labour party, many of whom have been unhappy with Corbyn’s leadership since he took office last September.

A chalk board is pictured where someone has written the question "Should Glastonbury remain part of the EU?" on day four of the Glastonbury Festival of Music and Performing Arts on Worthy Farm near the village of Pilton in Somerset, South West England. (AFP Photo)

Support for leaving the European Union was strong across northern England, the Midlands and Wales, including many areas that traditional vote Labour.

The party leadership had campaigned to stay in the EU, but critics accuse Corbyn of failing to reach out to working-class voters drawn in by the “Leave” camp’s anti-establishment rhetoric.

After a symbolic vote of no confidence on Friday against Corbyn, he sacked foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn late Saturday for challenging his leadership.

Read: ‘Didn’t think it would count’: Many Leave supporters regret Brexit vote

Hours later, health spokesperson Heidi Alexander quit, and media reports suggested several other colleagues were poised to join her.

“I do not believe you have the capacity to shape the answers our country is demanding,” Alexander wrote in her resignation letter.

But allies of the veteran socialist said he had no plans to step down. “He’s not going anywhere,” finance spokesman John McDonnell told BBC television.

The motion of no confidence is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party on Monday.

Any challenger would need the support of 20 percent of the party’s 229 MPs and it would then be put to party members.

Boost for Scottish independence

As Westminster politicians bickered, Scotland appeared to be moving closer towards independence, just two years after they voted by 55 percent to stay in the UK.

“The UK that Scotland voted to stay in in 2014 does not exist any more,” First Minister and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon told BBC television Sunday.

Scots had defied the national trend and voted to remain in the European Union, and the prospect of being taken out against their will has boosted the nationalist cause.

Two polls on Sunday put support for independence at 59 percent and 52 percent respectively.

Sturgeon has said a second independence referendum was now “highly likely”, and a meeting of her cabinet on Saturday agreed to start drawing up the necessary legislation.

“This is not going to be a re-run of the 2014 referendum. The context and the circumstances have changed dramatically,” she told the BBC.

Across Britain, more than three million Britons signed up to a rapidly-growing petition on an official government website pleading for a new vote.

The number of signatories far surpassed the 100,000 required for a proposal to be discussed in the House of Commons. A committee will consider the motion on Tuesday.

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