Labour's John McDonnell says he will not interfere if Hilary Benn faces deselection battle

Former shadow Foreign Secretary may be forced to fight for his Leeds Central amid an alleged plot to oust him

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John McDonnell has refused to interfere to ensure Hilary Benn remains a Labour MP amid reports that he is facing deselection after left-wing activists took over his local party.

Mr Benn has been disliked by many supporters of Jeremy Corbyn since arguing against the Labour leader and in favour of air strikes against Islamic State in Syria from the Opposition frontbench in the Commons.

He was then sacked from his role as shadow foreign secretary amid claims he was encouraging colleagues to resign as part of an eventually botched attempt to replace Mr Corbyn as leader.

The Sunday Times has now claimed that positions in Mr Benn's Leeds Central constituency party have been taken over by Corbyn supporters and he is facing the threat of deselection in the seat.

Asked whether he would discourage a challenge against Mr Benn, Mr McDonnell said the leadership would not interfere in local party affairs.

The shadow chancellor told BBC Radio Five Live's Pienaar's Politics: "Labour leadership doesn't involve itself in local selections to the local party. That's democracy.

"I think Hilary Benn's got a fantastic role to play.

"He's a friend of mine and I hope he continues to play a role in our party at whatever level.

"But we can't interfere in local democracy in our party. We're a democratic party."

Mr McDonnell also said reselection battles were inevitable in constituencies facing boundary changes.

Press Association