Labour MPs furious over 'outrageous' vote to abolish Watson's post

20 September 2019, 23:08 | Updated: 21 September 2019, 09:09

The Labour Party's ruling body is to consider abolishing the post of deputy leader.

According to two party officials, Momentum founder Jon Lansman, a key ally of leader Jeremy Corbyn, brought the motion - citing deputy leader Tom Watson's disloyalty over Brexit.

The chair of Labour's National Executive Committee ruled the motion should be thrown out, but it is likely to go back before the committee today.

A party spokesman did not comment, but a source close to Mr Watson told the PA news agency that the situation was "completely outrageous".

The deputy leader said he found out when he got a text as he was sat in a Chinese restaurant in Manchester on Friday evening.

Mr Watson told the BBC: "I know there were some media reports overnight that Jeremy wasn't aware - he can stop it now this morning if he wants to.

"If he lets the NEC know he doesn't agree then this wouldn't happen.

"I'm sure he's been reflecting on it overnight."

Mr Watson recently called for a new Brexit referendum to be held before a general election.

On the other hand, Mr Corbyn says Labour will offer people a second referendum only after an election.

Dawn Butler, shadow women and equalities minister, failed to explicitly back Mr Watson in his cabinet role.

When asked if Mr Watson should be the deputy leader, she told Sky News: "Of course I think Tom should be in the party.

"He is there to support the leader. We are a broad church, people have different views and express those in different ways.

"You're asking me to interfere with the NEC process."

Ms Butler admitted the motion had come as a surprise to her but denied that it indicated the Labour Party was ripping itself apart.

She said: "If we keep going down the speculation road we are going to go deeper and deeper and create an augmented reality vision of the party. It's important that people understand the process, otherwise they will get carried away."

Ms Butler said people should wait until the conclusion of the process, when the NEC has voted.

Earlier this month, Mr Watson said his party must "unambiguously and unequivocally back remain", but Mr Corbyn has always been more cautious about this approach.

Others in Labour also criticised the move against Mr Watson.

The party "should be about putting forward a strong, unified message and showcasing the policies that will win that election", said Justin Madders, a Labour MP.

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Former Labour leader Ed Miliband tweeted: "The move to abolish the deputy leader post without warning or debate is undemocratic, wrong and should not happen.

"Those who came up with the idea for the eve of Labour conference have taken leave of their senses."

Ex-minister Yvette Cooper tweeted: "This is completely mad and incredibly destructive. Country faces serious challenges and general election could be imminent. @UKLabour conference should be about country and about pulling together. Instead we get this."

Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: "Tribal infighting in the middle of a Boris Johnson-inspired national emergency makes me want to weep.

"My constituents and millions of others across the country desperately need the Labour Party united right now. The Tories, not Tom Watson, are our opponents. Let's fight them."

Former Conservative MP Anna Soubry, who defected earlier this year and is now leader of The Independent Group for Change, tweeted: "If @jeremycorbyn and his gang can't tolerate @tomwatson #Corbyn is hardly likely to be a credible 'caretaker' PM - the leader of a Government of National Unity."

Labour's party conference begins today in Brighton and Mr Corbyn is likely to come under pressure to be more active in backing those who want to remain in the EU.

But some party members fear this will result in a loss of support from Brexit voters in places such as northern England.