Hilary Benn has been sacked as shadow Foreign Secretary amid reports that up to half of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow Cabinet are expected to resign this morning.
In the greatest threat since Mr Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party just under a year ago - with a large mandate - several ministers have threatened to abandon the frontbench in the wake of the EU referendum result.
Heidi Alexander, the Shadow Health Secretary, became the first to resign on Sunday morning. In an open letter, she wrote: “It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to you to resign from the shadow Cabinet”.
“The result of the referendum last week means that our country is facing unprecedented challenges. Those who will be hit the hardest by the economic shock associated with the vote to leave the EU need a strong opposition, as do those communities who fear rising levels of intolerance, hatred and division.”
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn 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.
Mr Benn, the son of Tony Benn who was one of Mr Corbyn’s old mentors, said there was "widespread" worry among Labour MPs and in the shadow Cabinet over Mr Corbyn's ability to win a snap election in the wake of David Cameron's resignation.
The sacking follows claims in the Observer that Mr Benn called fellow MPs over the weekend to take soundings about a putsch. The party leader has faced accusations from his own MPs that he led a weak campaign in the EU referendum and is facing a motion of no confidence.
At a "critical" time for the country, the Labour Party required strong and effective leadership, Mr Benn said.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“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.
“In a phone call to Jeremy, I told him that for these reasons I had lost confidence in his ability to lead the party and he then dismissed me from the shadow cabinet.”
A Labour spokesman said that Mr Corbyn sacked the shadow foreign secretary "on the grounds that he has lost confidence in him".
Speaking shortly after he was fired on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Benn ruled out standing as a candidate for leader of the Labour party.
Ms Alexander added: “More than ever, our country needs an effective opposition which can hold the Government to account and which is capable of developing a credible and inspiring alternative to an increasingly right-wing and backward looking Conservative Party.
“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 do believe that if we are to form the next Government, a change of leadership is essential.”
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