Britain’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was clinging on to his political life today (29 June), pledging to fight on in any new leadership contest, while the Conservatives started looking for a new leader – and with it, prime minister – during the most turbulent period in Britain’s recent history.
With David Cameron having announced his resignation hours after the UK’s shock Brexit vote, the ruling Conservative party have triggered a contest with a new leader to be elected by the party membership on 9 September.
They will be under immediate pressure to hold a snap election, to give the new prime minister democratic legitimacy.
The favourite is Boris Johnson, ex-London mayor and figurehead of the Leave campaign, who already has the backing of more than 100 MPs, according to media reports.
Outsider Stephen Crabb, the work and pensions minister, is also standing, with Theresa May, the home secretary also expected to stand, and become the main ‘stop Boris’ candidate.
Nominations opened today, close tomorrow, with the party’s roughly 150,000 paid up members voting.
At this week EU leaders’ summit, which closed today, the remaining 27-members of the bloc agreed with Cameron that the new prime minister would trigger the Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which begins two years of negotiation on withdrawal.
Meanwhile, at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons, Cameron told Corbyn to “go”, after the majority of his shadow cabinet resigned over the past 48 hours in protest at his leadership.
“For heaven’s sake man, go!” Cameron said. That followed former leader Ed Miliband’s declaration that he had “reluctantly reached the conclusion that his position is untenable.”
In unprecedented scenes, UKIP’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, was booed by other MPs at the session, in the wake of a cataclysmic vote which has thrown the markets, and left Britain in what Dutch PM Mark Rutte this week called a collapse “politically, monetarily, constitutionally, and economically.”
Corbyn now faces being challenged by Angela Eagle MP, and possibly others, but stressed he will fight again – after being resounding elected by party members just nine months ago.
On Monday night several thousand Corbyn supporters demonstrated outside Westminster, calling on him to stay, whilst last night – again – several thousand pro-EU campaigners demonstrated in the same spot.
Corbyn was defeated by 172 to 40 in a non-binding no-confidence vote held by Labour MPs late Tuesday, and speculation was mounting that a candidate would come forward and challenge him.
“It looks as though we will have a leadership election now,” Corbyn ally and shadow finance minister John McDonnell told reporters Wednesday.
The Liberal Democrats – the most pro-EU party in Westminster – were reduced to rump of just eight MPs at the 2015 general election.
Bookmakers make Johnson slight favourite over May. George Osborne, the chancellor and a major voice in the defeated Remain campaign, has ruled himself out of running, as he tries to calm the financial markets.
Critics have questioned whether the “Leave” camp – and Johnson in particular – has any idea how to manage the unprecedented situation left by last week’s vote.
Johnson missed a Monday debate on the referendum result on Monday in parliament, and has so far only commented through a column in the Daily Telegraph.
In a sign of the depth of the crisis, the Scottish National Party, which has 54 seats in the House of Commons to Labour’s 229, announced it would make a bid to take over as the official opposition party in parliament.
Sturgeon was in Brussels on Thursday, to put the case to EU Council President Donald Tusk that Scotland had voted universally to remain in the EU.