Shadow leader of the Commons Chris Bryant became the latest senior figure to announce he could no longer work with Mr Corbyn, declaring: “We need someone new to lead and unite Labour.”
The party’s influential deputy leader Tom Watson is to hold emergency talks with Corbyn today to “discuss the way forward” after 11 members of the shadow cabinet announced they were resigning — with more expected to follow.
There was speculation that a full-blown coup was being launched by shadow cabinet ministers after the sacking of foreign secretary Hilary Benn earlier yesterday — triggering the walkouts.
Asked if there would be further resignations, Benn said: “Of course members of the shadow cabinet, as you would expect — certainly in the wake of the referendum result — have been talking to each other.
“It is for each individual to make their own decision, I have made mine and I made my views clear to Jeremy.
Watson said he was “saddened” that so many colleagues felt unable to carry on and “deeply disappointed” at the sacking of Benn, which triggered the walkout.
He said: “My single focus is to hold the Labour Party together in very turbulent times. The nation needs an effective opposition, particularly as the current leadership of the country is so lamentable.
“It’s very clear to me that we are heading for an early general election and the Labour Party must be ready to form a government. There’s much work to do. I will be meeting Jeremy Corbyn tomorrow morning to discuss the way forward.”
As Watson returned from the Glastonbury Festival to deal with the crisis, allies of the Labour leader insisted he had no intention of quitting, and angrily accused the rebels of having plotted for months.
A series of senior trade unionists on Labour’s ruling national executive committee rallied in support of Corbyn, including Unite leader, Len McCluskey, and Dave Ward, of the Communication Workers’ Union.
There was also support from shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, who said he would not take part in a coup.
However, the rebels warned that Corbyn would be unable to form a new shadow team, given that Labour MPs were unwilling to serve under his leadership.
The revolt of the shadow cabinet was sparked by the dismissal of Benn, following reports that Benn was orchestrating moves to mount a coup against Corbyn.
First to go was shadow health secretary, Heidi Alexander, followed by the shadow minister, Gloria De Piero.
They were followed, at intervals through the day, by shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, shadow environment secretary, Kerry McCarthy, shadow transport secretary, Lilian Greenwood, shadow Scottish secretary, Ian Murray, shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Vernon Coaker, shadow justice secretary, Lord Falconer, and shadow Treasury chief secretary, Seema Malhotra. Shadow attorney general Karl Turner also stepped down yesterday.
In her resignation letter, Powell said the party was facing an “existential threat” and she had no confidence in Corbyn’s ability to lead them to victory, if the Tories were to call a snap general election later this year, in the wake of the Leave vote in the referendum.
“The task in front of us is immense. We have, over many years, lost the support of our traditional communities,” she wrote.
“While I don’t blame you, personally, for that, I do not believe you understand their concerns sufficiently to re-engage with these communities.”
Benn told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “He (Mr Corbyn) is a good and decent man, but he is not a leader and that is the problem.”
Shadow chancellor, John McDonnell — one of Corbyn’s closest allies — said that he had no intention of quitting.
In a thinly veiled warning to rebels, he said that Corbyn still had the backing of the grassroots activists who swept him to the leadership last year, and who will decide the outcome of any new contest.
“When people go back to their constituencies, the message will be straightforward — be loyal to the principles of the Labour Party,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics.
“Support the leader we elected nine months ago. Full stop. Accept the mandate.”
However, Corbyn now faces a vote of no-confidence that will be discussed at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, at Westminster today, with a secret ballot of MPs expected tomorrow.
Although the vote has no formal status, rebels hope that a defeat will make Corbyn’s position untenable.
In a letter to Labour MPs, veteran backbencher, Dame Margaret Hodge, who tabled the no-confidence motion, warned that they were facing a disaster at the polls, if they failed to act.
“If a general election is called later this year, which is a very real prospect, we believe that, under Jeremy’s leadership, we could be looking at political oblivion,” she wrote.
Mr Murray told the BBC: “He’s a decent human being, a lovely man who I got on incredibly well with, but he just can’t lead the Labour Party and I don’t think the public think he could be prime minister.”