Jeremy Corbyn has sacked Hilary Benn from the shadow cabinet following reports of a coup to oust the Labour leader.
More than six months of simmering tension between Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Benn have boiled over, with the Labour leader dramatically sacking his shadow foreign secretary in the early hours of the morning.
It was around midnight when a furious Mr Corbyn phoned Mr Benn, after The Observer newspaper reported that Mr Benn was poised to lead a shadow cabinet coup to oust him.
The paper claims the shadow foreign secretary called fellow Labour MPs over the weekend and said he would ask Mr Corbyn to stand down if there was significant support for a move against the leader.
And it was reported Mr Benn also asked shadow cabinet colleagues to join him in resigning if the Labour leader ignored that request.
Then, shortly after 1am, a Labour spokesman phoned Sky News and announced: “Jeremy has sacked him on the grounds that he has lost confidence in him.”
However, in a statement, Hilary 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.
“In particular, there is no confidence in our ability to win the next general election, which may come 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.”
There has been strong support for Mr Benn from Labour MPs, including the former cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw, who said: “The Labour shadow cabinet must now act to save the party and for the sake of the country. Otherwise we will never be forgiven.”
These dramatic events came at the end of a day in which Mr Corbyn was cheered by supporters after he insisted he would fight on even if a move by Labour backbenchers to force a vote of no confidence in himsucceeds this week.
But only minutes later, at a pride event in central London, he washeckled by a Labour activist who said the vote to leave the EU in Thursday’s referendum was his fault and he should resign. Mr Corbyn said he had done all he could.
The rift between Mr Corbyn and Mr Benn, whose late father Tony was one of the Labour leader’s closest friends, dates back to the tense Commons debate on military action against Syria late last year.
MPs were left stunned by the bizarre spectacle of the Labour leader and his own shadow foreign secretary speaking out on opposite sides of the debate.
After Mr Corbyn opposed military intervention at the start of the debate, MPs cheered and applauded a passionate speech by Mr Benn at the end of the debate in favour of bombing Syria.
Mr Corbyn later said he had been appalled by Mr Benn’s speech. He tried to sack him in what was called a “revenge reshuffle”, but faced a shadow cabinet backlash and had to settle for exerting a number of loyalty pledges from him.
But despite good results in by-elections such as Tooting 10 days ago, it’s Mr Corbyn’s performance in the referendum campaign and the big Leave vote in Labour strongholds that has triggered the moves to force him out.
MPs return to the Commons on Monday after a break for the referendum and it promised to be an action-packed day.
After Mr Corbyn faces David Cameron in the Commons in what is certain to be a highly-charged showdown after the vote to leave the EU, Labour MPs and peers will meet in private to debate the call for a no-confidence motion, which its backers hope to put to a secret ballot on Tuesday.