Owen Smith sacked after calling for second Brexit referendum

Owen Smith was sacked from Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet on Friday evening after criticising Labour’s Brexit position and calling for a second referendum.

In a piece for the Guardian, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary and MP for Pontypridd argued: “there is realistically only one way to honour our obligations under the Good Friday agreement and that is to remain members of both the customs union and the single market”.

 

Other Remainer Labour MPs took to Twitter to defend Owen Smith and condemn the leadership’s decision to sack him for breaking with the principle of collective responsibility.

Smith has been replaced as shadow Northern Ireland secretary by Tony Lloyd, who took up the position with immediate effect.

Commenting on the move, Jeremy Corbyn said: “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.”

Lloyd, the MP for Rochdale and until his new appointment the shadow minister for housing, 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.”

Commentators were quick to note that it was not unprecedented for Labour leaders to sack MPs who openly challenged the party line.

The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman and former Labour MP Tom Harris speculated whether the move was an attempt to distract from an online incident of antisemitism Jeremy Corbyn allegedly was involved in.

But the New Statesman‘s correspondent Stephen Bush argued the ‘distraction’ theory is unlikely, particularly as the leadership has a habit of announcing shadow cabinet changes on Friday evenings.

“It is rare in the extreme for frontbenchers to be able to remain in place after publicly defying their party’s leader,” Bush writes.

Some party activists will worry that Friday’s events will have an impact on the results of local elections in May.

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