Post-Brexit revolt exposes rift in Britain's Labour Party

Embattled Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has named several replacements to his shadow cabinet after facing a mass resignation. 

Neil Hall/Reuters
Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in London on Monday. Britain's Labour Party leader faced massive staff resignations who disagreed with his position on the Brexit.

Britain's historic vote to leave the European Union has Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in a tight spot. 

Last week, two senior Labour Party lawmakers submitted a no-confidence vote amid accusations that Mr. Corbyn – who took the reins just a year ago with one of the largest mandates in recent memory – had led an ineffective and halfhearted campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union.

On Sunday, just days after the so-called Brexit vote, members of Corbyn's shadow cabinet resigned en masse, citing what they saw as lackluster leadership from him over the most radical development in British politics in years. By Monday afternoon, 23 members of Parliament (MPs) had either resigned or were fired, as was former foreign secretary Hilary Benn, who had reportedly encouraged other ministers to resign if Corbyn were to ignore a no-confidence vote against him. 

The revolt seems to reveal a rift in the Labour Party that mirrors those faced by their conservative opposition – as well as by the major political parties in the United States, says Fiona Hill, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe. 

"Corbyn has had his mandate taken out from underneath him just like [former Prime Minister David] Cameron has," she says in an interview with The Christina Science Monitor. "He's just as much a casualty."

A longtime critic of what he once described as the "serious democratic deficit" of the EU, Corbyn channeled the discontent of Labour's Northern England, working-class grass roots into a progressive platform. In 2008, he voted against the Lisbon Treaty, which laid the constitutional groundwork for the union. A year later, he said the project was designed to create "huge free-market Europe, with ever-limiting powers for national governments." 

In April, Corbyn put his weight behind remaining in the EU, "warts and all." That angered much of the grass roots, which had been key to his ascent to power. His unenthusiastic campaigning, meanwhile, seems to have alienated his cabinet.

"He was never really accepted by the upper levels of the party membership," says Ms. Hill. "He scraped in on a grass-roots ticket. But the grass roots expected him to stick to his guns and reflect their views, so when he opted to campaign for Remain – which was inevitable – he got caught out."

Meanwhile, senior Labour Party members have cast blame on him for not campaigning hard enough. Alan Johnson, leader of the Labour In for Britain campaign, accused Corbyn's office of "working against the rest of the Party," according to ITV News

Even as resignations continued on Monday, Corbyn was moving to shore up his cabinet, naming 10 new ministers to fill the vacancies.

In Parliament on Monday, Corbyn warned Labour members against "internal factional maneuvering at this time," and defended his efforts in the Remain campaign, according to the BBC.

His party, he said, had managed to convince "two thirds of our own supporters" to vote to stay in the EU, while the Leave vote was highest in areas let down by the policies of Tory governments.

In a statement on Monday, Corbyn defied calls for his resignation. 

"Those who want to change Labour's leadership will have to stand in a democratic election, in which I will be a candidate," he said.

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