On 26–29 June 2016, 21 members of the Shadow Cabinet resigned from the frontbench. Following the Leave result in the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, Jeremy Corbyn faced heavy criticism for the perceived reluctance of his involvement in the campaign to Remain and his perceived weakness as leader of the Labour Party.[1][2]

The first shadow minister to depart the Opposition frontbench was Hilary Benn, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, on 26 June.[3] Over the course of the day, he was joined by 11 other Shadow Cabinet members, all expressing concern with Corbyn's ability to lead the party into the next general election.[4] On the following day, 27 June, a further eight members resigned, including Angela Eagle, the most senior Shadow Secretary of State.[5]

Tom Watson, the deputy party leader, remained in his position while openly criticising Corbyn's leadership.[6] Unlike the other members of the Shadow Cabinet, Watson could not be removed by Corbyn as he had been elected, not appointed. This enabled him to put public pressure on Corbyn to resign.[7]

Corbyn's allies in the Shadow Cabinet (Diane Abbott, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Jon Trickett)[8][9] all refused to stand down, condemning the actions of their former colleagues as a "coup" against the democratically elected party leader. Andy Burnham, the Shadow Home Secretary and leadership candidate in 2015, also announced that he would not resign, saying that he believed that "civil war" in the party was a bad idea.[10]

On 27 June, Corbyn announced new appointments to his top team, including promotions for Abbott and Thornberry, and 13 new members.[11] Due to the fact that few Labour MPs were prepared to support him, Corbyn introduced a number of joint portfolios, such as combining the Scotland and Northern Ireland briefs. He also appointed veteran backbench MP Paul Flynn, who is believed to have become the oldest frontbench spokesperson since William Gladstone, at 81 years of age.[12]

On 28 June, the Parliamentary Labour Party held a motion of no confidence in Corbyn as party leader, which passed overwhelmingly with 172 votes in favour and 40 votes against.[13] On the following day, Pat Glass resigned after two days as Shadow Education Secretary, stating that the situation had become "untenable".[14]

Despite the result of the no-confidence vote, Corbyn claimed that it had "no constitutional legitimacy" and refused to resign. Several high-profile and influential Labour MPs were touted as possible leadership challengers, as Corbyn's opponents tried to find a single candidate to unite around.[15] Eventually two emerged: Angela Eagle and Owen Smith, who launched their leadership campaigns on 11 July[16] and 13 July,[17] respectively. Eagle withdrew from the race and endorsed Smith on 19 July, making him the sole challenger to Corbyn.[18]

Corbyn was re-elected with 313,209 votes, a 61.8% share of the total vote.[19] Following his victory, Corbyn re-shuffled the Shadow Cabinet on 6–7 October, inviting back a few of the former members who had resigned in June. Nia Griffith returned as Shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey as Shadow Housing Secretary and Keir Starmer as Shadow Brexit Secretary.[20]

List of resignations

26 June

# Portrait MP Constituency Office Notes
Official portrait of Hilary Benn crop 2.jpg
Hilary Benn Leeds Central Shadow Foreign Secretary Sacked during a phone call in which Benn stated that he had lost confidence in Corbyn's leadership.[3]
Official portrait of Heidi Alexander crop 2.jpg
Heidi Alexander Lewisham East Shadow Health Secretary
Official portrait of Gloria De Piero crop 2.jpg
Gloria De Piero Ashfield Shadow Minister for Young People
Official portrait of Ian Murray crop 2.jpg
Ian Murray Edinburgh South Shadow Scottish Secretary
Official portrait of Lilian Greenwood crop 2.jpg
Lilian Greenwood Nottingham South Shadow Transport Secretary
Official portrait of Lucy Powell.jpg
Lucy Powell Manchester Central Shadow Education Secretary
Official portrait of Kerry McCarthy.jpg
Kerry McCarthy Bristol East Shadow Environment Secretary
Official portrait of Seema Malhotra crop 2.jpg
Seema Malhotra Feltham and Heston Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Official portrait of Vernon Coaker crop 2.jpg
Vernon Coaker Gedling Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary
Official portrait of Lord Falconer of Thoroton crop 2.jpg
Lord Falconer of Thoroton Member of the House of Lords Shadow Justice Secretary
Shadow Lord Chancellor
Official portrait of Karl Turner crop 2.jpg
Karl Turner Kingston upon Hull East Shadow Attorney General
Official portrait of Chris Bryant crop 2.jpg
Chris Bryant Rhondda Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

27 June

# Portrait MP Constituency Office Notes
Official portrait of Lisa Nandy crop 2.jpg
Lisa Nandy Wigan Shadow Energy Secretary Joint resignation; released statement together, calling on Tom Watson to take over as interim leader.[21]
Official portrait of Owen Smith crop 2.jpg
Owen Smith Pontypridd Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary
Official portrait of Ms Angela Eagle.jpg
Angela Eagle Wallasey Shadow First Secretary of State
Shadow Business Secretary
Official portrait of John Healey crop 2.jpg
John Healey Wentworth and Dearne Shadow Minister for Housing Returned to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Housing Secretary on 6 October.
Official portrait of Nia Griffith crop 2.jpg
Nia Griffith Llanelli Shadow Welsh Secretary Returned to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Defence Secretary on 6 October.
Official portrait of Maria Eagle crop 2.jpg
Maria Eagle Garston and Halewood Shadow Culture Secretary
Official portrait of Kate Green crop 2.jpg
Kate Green Stretford and Urmston Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities
Official portrait of Luciana Berger crop 2.jpg
Luciana Berger Liverpool Wavertree Shadow Minister for Mental Health

29 June

# Portrait MP Constituency Office Notes
Pat Glass.jpg
Pat Glass North West Durham Shadow Education Secretary Appointed to replace Lucy Powell on 27 June; resigned after two days in the Shadow Cabinet, saying that she had decided to stand down at the next general election.


No confidence motion

Motion of no confidence
Ballot → 28 June 2016
Required majority → 115 out of 229 Labour MPs checkY
172 / 229
40 / 229
Spoilt ballot
4 / 229
Did not vote
13 / 229

Leadership challenge

Main article: 2016 Labour Party leadership election (UK)


  1. ^ Inman, Phillip (29 June 2016). "Former Corbyn adviser Thomas Piketty criticises Labour's 'weak' EU fight". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  2. ^ McSmith, Andy (29 June 2016). "The Jeremy Corbyn leadership challenge is reducing the most senior members of Labour to tears". The Independent.
  3. ^ a b "Brexit: Hilary Benn sacked as Corbyn faces 'no confidence' pressure". BBC News. 26 June 2016.
  4. ^ Boffey, Daniel; Phipps, Claire; Asthana, Anushka (26 June 2016). "Labour in crisis: shadow ministers resign in protests against Corbyn". The Guardian.
  5. ^ "Live updates: Labour leadership crisis: Frontbenchers Angela Eagle and John Healey resign". ITV News. 27 June 2016.
  6. ^ Asthana, Anushka; Syal, Rajeev (26 June 2016). "Labour in crisis: Tom Watson criticises Hilary Benn sacking". The Guardian.
  7. ^ Merrick, Jane (20 December 2016). "The fate of the MPs who plotted a coup against Corbyn". The Guardian.
  8. ^ "Live updates: Labour leadership crisis: Corbyn loyalists Thornbury and Abbott urge against coup". ITV News. 26 June 2016.
  9. ^ "Corbyn will not resign say allies amid battle with MPs". BBC News. 27 June 2016.
  10. ^ "Live updates: Labour leadership crisis: Burnham will not take part in 'coup' against Corbyn". ITV News. 26 June 2016.
  11. ^ Syal, Rajeev; Perraudin, Frances; Slawson, Nicola (27 June 2016). "Shadow cabinet resignations: who has gone and who is staying". The Guardian.
  12. ^ Cornock, David (30 June 2016). "'Trailblazer' octogenarian back on Commons front bench". BBC News.
  13. ^ Stone, Jon (28 June 2016). "Jeremy Corbyn loses 'no confidence' vote among Labour MPs by 172 to 40". The Independent.
  14. ^ "Pat Glass resigns as Labour education shadow secretary". BBC News. 29 June 2016.
  15. ^ Asthana, Anushka; Syal, Rajeev; Elgot, Jessica (28 June 2016). "Labour MPs prepare for leadership contest after Corbyn loses confidence vote". The Guardian.
  16. ^ Walker, Peter (11 July 2016). "Angela Eagle says 'I'm here to win' at launch of Labour leadership bid". The Guardian.
  17. ^ "Labour leadership: Owen Smith to enter contest". BBC News. 13 July 2016.
  18. ^ Rampen, Julia (19 July 2016). "Angela Eagle drops out of the Labour leadership race". New Statesman.
  19. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn earns refreshed mandate as he is re-elected Labour leader - LabourList". LabourList. 24 September 2016.
  20. ^ "Labour's new shadow cabinet in full". BBC News. 7 October 2016.
  21. ^ "Owen Smith on Jeremy Corbyn: 'It breaks my heart'". BBC News. 27 June 2016.