British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will ask centrists to join his front bench in an effort to avert open rebellion in the wake of his landslide victory in the leadership election.
The veteran left-winger’s triumph set off celebrations among his supporters but threatened to split the party’s MPs, most of whom opposed his bid for the leadership.
Yesterday, Ivan Lewis said he had been replaced as shadow Northern Ireland secretary despite offering to stay on to deal with the ongoing crisis in the Stormont assembly.
“Earlier today I offered to remain as shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the time being in the light of the current political crisis. I thought it was the right thing to do. Jeremy has decided to offer the role to someone else. I wish my successor well at this crucial time,” he said.
Mr Corbyn pledged to bring together “ideas from all levels of the party”, but the scale of his task in uniting Labour MPs was underlined when eight prominent party figures said they would not serve in his shadow cabinet. They include two of Mr Corbyn’s defeated rivals,
, and frontbenchers
Ed Miliband, who resigned as leader after Labour's general election defeat in May, said he would not return to the frontline, but it was unclear whether Andy Burnham, who came a distant second in the leadership contest, and shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, would accept jobs.
Labour's new deputy leader Tom Watson, elected in a separate ballot on Saturday, urged MPs to respect Mr Corbyn's mandate and said there was "zero chance" of a coup. Mr Watson also admitted he disagreed with his party leader on key policy issues, including Nato and Britain's nuclear weapons programme, which Mr Corbyn wants to scrap.
He said he didn’t know “precisely what Jeremy’s position” was on Nato membership, which Mr Corbyn has previously opposed, and hoped to “convince him of the merits”. He insisted the party could present a united front in favour of EU membership. “These things have got to be worked out.”
Diane Abbott, a Corbyn ally, said he would not seek Britain's exit from Nato or the EU and claims to the contrary were "red herrings".
Mr Corbyn voted No in a 1975 referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the then European Economic Community and has been ambiguous about how he plans to campaign in the upcoming vote on membership.
Mr Corbyn was elected on the first count with 59.5 per cent of more than 400,000 votes cast by party members and supporters, with Mr Burnham in second place on 19 per cent. Ms Cooper received 17 per cent of votes and Ms Kendall received 4.5 per cent.
Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton congratulated Mr Corbyn, saying his campaign had energised large sections of the party's membership and brought new people into the organisation.