Britain’s Labour opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn was faced with the resignation or dismissal of at least seven of his shadow cabinet on Sunday (26 June) in the wake of the Brexit vote – just 48 hours after Prime Minister David Cameron announced his own resignation.
With Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing her government’s determination to open immediate talks with the EU after Scotland voted unanimously for Remain – and mooting a second possible Scottish independence referendum – the political situation in the UK was in almost unprecedented flux, with markets due to reopen on Monday.
Neither the Chancellor, George Osborne, nor Boris Johnson, the figurehead of the victorious Leave campaign, had made a public statement by mid-afternoon, in the wake of Thursday’s shock vote.
That prompted calls from the Economics Editor of the Financial Times for the chancellor and the Leave campaign to announce a plan “before shock will turn into a disaster.”
Chris Giles tweeted:
Not to be overly alarming, but things are unraveling faster than after Lehman collapse https://t.co/xxGq7OqDtC
— Chris Giles (@ChrisGiles_) June 26, 2016
By mid-afternoon Sunday, Hilary Benn, Heidi Alexander, Gloria Del Piero, Ian Murray, Lillian Greenwood, Lucy Powell, Kerry McCarthy and shadow Treasury chief secretary Sema Malhotra all resigned, in an effort to prompt a leadership change ahead of a possible snap election later in 2016.
Cameron, in his resignation announcement on Friday morning, said he would stay on until his party’s conference in October, whilst a Conservative leadership election took place.
The UK government has not yet sent legal notification to the EU Council under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin the two-year withdrawal negotiations.
Some in Downing Street and elsewhere seem to be hoping to delay that legal notification process as long as possible whilst the economic and financial turmoil unfolds.
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, announced on Sunday he would be changing his travel plans to visit Brussels and London in the next couple of days, pointing to the global fears over what is happening in Europe.
Meanwhile, the Leave campaign faced its own problems. Two of the main planks of its withdrawal campaign appear to have already been backtracked on, with Nigel Farage of UKIP denying that “£350m a week” could be spent on the NHS if the UK left the EU – as promised on Boris Johnson’s campaign bus.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former Cabinet minister and Leave campaigner, told the BBC on Sunday only that “a significant amount of money” could be spent on the NHS.
— The Andrew Marr Show (@MarrShow) June 26, 2016
Leave-supporting MEP Daniel Hannan had already come under fire for suggesting that immigration need not necessarily go down post-Brexit – one of the issues many Leave voters said they were voting for during the campaign.
In another about-turn, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, who campaigned to Leave, said Article 50 should not be activated as “we’ll be shut out of important meetings”.
Some of the stuff coming from Leavers post-referendum is gobsmacking. https://t.co/qPBis0loGK
— Robin Wigglesworth (@RobinWigg) June 26, 2016
Boris Johnson is the bookmakers’ favourite to be the next UK prime minister, although Home Secretary Theresa May and others may stand.
One third of Labour voters chose to leave the European Union in Thursday’s historic vote, against the advice of the majority of their party’s MPs and the leadership.
Critics say Corbyn – who for decades had expressed Eurosceptic views – could have done more to sway voters.
But Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell told BBC television: “He was elected nine months ago, the biggest mandate of any political leader in our country, and he is not going anywhere.”
The referendum result triggered a slump in the value of sterling and UK stocks, raised questions over the future of the EU and sparked a surge in support for Scottish independence.
EU leaders are pressing for a hasty divorce, but Cameron said he would leave it to his successor to start exit negotiations, putting the process on hold for months.