HULL MP Alan Johnson today launched a withering attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s role in Labour’s Remain campaign as the party leader was hit by a fresh wave of frontbench resignations.
The former Home Secretary, who chaired Labour In For Britain, admitted he felt as if the leader’s office was working against him.
Mr Corbyn also came under fire from the director of the official Remain campaign group Britain Stronger In Europe who criticised him for taking a holiday during the referendum contest and removing pro-EU lines from his speeches.
In an email to colleagues, Mr Johnson described the referendum result as “a huge blow” and said he took his share of responsibility for the campaign.
He added: “Everyone else needs to make their own assessment as to whether more could have been done to prevent this disastrous result. I will certainly do this as I hope will the Leader’s Office.
“At times it felt like they work working against the rest of the party and had conflicting objectives.”
In a website post today, Will Straw, director of Britain Stronger In Europe, launched a fierce attack on Mr Corbyn, urging him to follow David Cameron’s example and stand down.
He said: “Under his leadership, Labour is further removed from its industrial heartlands than ever before with 29 per cent of its supporters threatening to go elsewhere. New research from the IPPR think tank shows that the poorest families will be hit twice as hard by new inflation caused by sterling’s slide as the richest—many living in areas that voted overwhelmingly to leave.
“Rather than making a clear and passionate Labour case for EU membership, Corbyn took a week’s holiday in the middle of the campaign and removed pro-EU lines from his speeches.
“Rather than finding imaginative ways for Labour to present a united front and get its message across to wavering supporters, Corbyn vetoed a planned event featuring all Labour’s formers leaders.
“Rather than confronting concerns about immigration with Labour’s values of contribution and reciprocity, Corbyn distanced himself from the manifesto commitment to restrict in work benefits for new arrivals to this country and planned a trip to Turkey to talk about ‘open borders’.”
The recriminations over the referendum result continued to help fuel the rebellion against Mr Corbyn’s leadership as he was hit by more resignations today.
Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey left his post as shadow housing secretary this morning while Hull North MP Diana Johnson resigned her role in the shadow foreign affairs team.
Redcar MP Anna Turley and Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins both resigned from their shadow ministerial roles.
I think there’s a real risk that if we go into a general election before the end of this year with Jeremy as our leader we will lose somewhere between 30 and 60 trusted and valued colleagues.MP Stephen Kinnock
Sources close to the shadow cabinet this morning suggested that just one candidate will come forward to challenge Mr Corbyn, to avoid by splitting votes.
One source said: “One on one means it’s a straight challenge.”
Rumours swept Westminster that outgoing shadow energy Secretary Lisa Nandy could be that candidate but she later ruled herself out of the running.
Ms Nandy and Mr Healey were among a group of five shadow cabinet members who met Mr Corbyn today and later resigned.
In his resignation letter, Mr Healey said he was “deeply disappointed” at the discussion and Mr Corbyn’s refusal to accept that he needed to stand aside and seek a “new mandate” if he wanted to continue to leader the party.
Mr Healey’s letter continued: “Whilst we all have a responsibility to help maintain a unity of Labour purpose and provide a strong Labour voice at this time of unprecendented national uncertainty and lack of Government action post-Brexit, you are clearly not prepared to accept the special responsibility you have in acting to meet these challenges.”
In her letter, Mrs Johnson told me Corbyn he was “principled and decent” but “I do not believe you possess the vital leadership qualities we need at this time”.
Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle among the other high profile departures.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson also met Mr Corbyn and told him he now faces a leadership challenge.
Mr Corbyn’s lacklustre approach to the EU referendum campaign has helped fuel criticism of his leadership in the light of Leave’s victory.
If Mr Corbyn continues to refuse to stand down, the revolt against his leadership will take another step forward at tonight’s weekly Parliamentary Labour Party meeting where a no-confidence motion will be debated.
A ballot box will be placed in their office within Westminster or a committee room where MPs will troop in to decide whether to back Mr Corbyn or not.
If it is supported, Labour’s National Executive Committee will then set a timetable for nominations to challenge the leadership and any candidate would need the backing of 51 MPs to take part if Mr Corbyn chooses to stay on.
Speaking on Sunday, former shadow energy secretary and Don Valley MP Caroline Flint said the ballot must remain secret despite a suggestion that those around Mr Corbyn will push for a show of hands.
She said: “There should be no arm twisting on this. A show of hands would be an indication of heavy handed, quite intimidating tactics, to put pressure on.
“How can we seriously win a General Election, with a new leader of the Tory Party going to be selected, and confidently think Jeremy Corbyn is the person to do that?”