- Labour leader sacks a senior member of his team after he publicly backed a second Brexit referendum.
- Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith called for Britain to stay in the single market and vote again on Brexit.
- Neither position is official Labour policy.
- Smith’s sacking is set to bring Labour divisions over Brexit to a head.
LONDON – Jeremy Corbyn has sacked Owen Smith as Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland Secretary after he publicly called for a second Brexit referendum.
Smith used an article for the Guardian on Friday to call for a second vote on Brexit as well as to call on Britain to remain in the single market. Neither position is Labour’s official policy.
A spokesman for Corbyn said that Smith had been “asked to stand down as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, and has been replaced by Tony Lloyd with immediate effect”.
A Labour source added that: “Owen was asked to stand down for repeatedly breaching shadow cabinet collective responsibility on Brexit by advocating single market membership.”
He added: “Those views are shared by Labour members & supporters and I will continue to speak up for them, and in the interest of our country.”
Smith stood against Corbyn in 2016 following a challenge against Corbyn’s leadership by Labour MPs. However, Smith rejoined Labour’s top team after the challenge and is understood to have had good relations with the leadership since.
His departure highlights growing divisions within the party over Brexit, with significant numbers of Labour MPs, as well as Labour members, pushing for the leadership to take a tougher anti-Brexit position.
Smith was backed by former leadership contender and anti-Brexit campaigner Chuka Ummuna, who tweeted: “what has happened to our party?” in response to his sacking
Its extraordinary that a shadow cabinet member -doing an excellent job in their brief – should be sacked for standing up for our principles and advocating a Brexit policy that commands the overwhelming support of our members, supporters and voters. What has happened to our party? https://t.co/DBYDlNXSZ0
— ChukaUmunna (@ChukaUmunna) March 23, 2018
In a statement on Smith’s replacement, Corbyn said that: “Tony is a highly experienced former Government Minister who is committed to ensuring that peace in Northern Ireland is maintained and helping to steer the devolution deal back on track.”
Commenting on his appointment, Tony Lloyd said: “As we leave the European Union, ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is of paramount importance and this will be my number one priority. This is an incredibly important job, with a huge in-tray and I am looking forward to starting work.”