U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn rejected calls to resign after he lost a no-confidence vote, deepening the turmoil in a party more divided than at any time in three decades.
Labour lawmakers backed the motion of no confidence by 172 votes to 40 in a vote that is advisory rather than binding. Corbyn responded by vowing not to “betray” his supporters and carry on, despite the resignation of more than 50 of his team in the past three days.
“How can you not resign?” Chris Bryant, who quit on Sunday, said of the opposition leader in a phone interview Tuesday. “Intransigence will do him no favors. He could barely fill the top level of a double-decker bus with his parliamentary supporters, let alone a full front-bench shadow team of 95.”
The shock vote to leave the European Union last week has plunged Britain into crisis. Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, triggering a leadership contest in the ruling Conservative Party; Scottish politicians are threatening to hold a second referendum on independence from the U.K.; and the pound sank to the lowest level against the dollar in 31 years.
The standoff between Corbyn and his members of Parliament threatens to fracture a party in its worst crisis since 1981, when four senior members broke away to form the Social Democratic Party.
The Labour leader received a further blow on Tuesday when Danny Blanchflower, a former Bank of England policy maker now at Dartmouth College, announced he’d resigned from Corbyn’s Economic Advisory Committee, which was tasked with developing economic strategy.
“Any other normal leader in normal times would just go quietly after this,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London, said in a phone interview. “But these are not normal times and he is not a normal leader, so anyone betting against him carrying on until a leadership contest is probably foolish. If he were to win a second leadership contest, then I think that the Labour Party will split.”
Corbyn became leader in September with the backing of party members, but little support among Labour members of Parliament. Many lawmakers long opposed to his hard-line socialist policies now accuse him of doing too little to persuade Labour voters to back staying in the EU. They fear Corbyn lacks the powers of persuasion needed to win a general election that could happen sooner than planned.
A leadership election can be triggered if 20 percent of the party’s lawmakers put their names to a letter backing a rival, and the scale of the revolt against him suggests that the anti-Corbyn camp has enough support in Parliament to launch a formal challenge.
There is speculation that deputy leader Tom Watson or Angela Eagle, who quit as business spokeswoman on Monday, could run as a “unity” candidate to defeat Corbyn. Bookmaker Ladbrokes has installed Watson as the “clear favorite.” Corbyn insisted he’s going nowhere.
“I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60 percent of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning,” he said in a statement. “Today’s vote by MPs has no constitutional legitimacy.”
Margaret Hodge, one of the sponsors of the no-confidence motion, said Tuesday in a BBC Radio interview that the Brexit referendum was a test of Corbyn’s leadership “and he failed it.”
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · Alex Morales