Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of a ‘Stalinist purge’ after sacking his former leadership rival Owen Smith after he called for a second EU referendum.
Mr Smith, who challenged Mr Corbyn for leadership of the party in 2016, was brought into the shadow cabinet front bench after the general election last year.
He has been replaced by the shadow housing minister Tony Lloyd.
In a statement, Mr 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.’
Jeremy Corbyn has sacked shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith (pictured with Mr Corbyn during a leadership debate in 2016) after he called for a second EU referendum
Mr Smith, pictured with Mr Corbyn in September 2016, challenged Mr Corbyn for leadership of the party in 2016 and lost. He is being replaced by Tony Lloyd
Mr Smith responded to the sacking by tweeting: ‘Just been sacked by @jeremycorbyn for my long held views on the damage #Brexit will do to the Good Friday Agreement & the economy of the entire U.K.
‘Those views are shared by Labour members & supporters and I will continue to speak up for them, and in the interest of our country.’
The tweet has racked up nearly 11,000 likes and more than 4,750 retweets.
Mr Smith wrote a comment piece for the Guardian in which he called for a second Brexit vote, saying that we need to ask if Brexit is the right choice for the UK.
He wrote: ‘Given that it is increasingly obvious that the promises the Brexiters made to the voters – especially, but not only, their pledge of an additional £350m a week for the NHS – are never going to be honoured, we have the right to keep asking if Brexit remains the right choice for the country.
‘And to ask, too, that the country has a vote on whether to accept the terms, and true costs of that choice, once they are clear. That is how Labour can properly serve our democracy and the interests of our people.’
Mr Corbyn has insisted that it is not Labour’s policy to offer a second referendum, but it is a policy Mr Smith ran on while fighting him to become leader.
Several MPs took to Twitter to share their support for the Pontypridd MP.
Chuka Umunna, who was shadow business secretary between 2011 and 2015 when he resigned over Mr Corbyn’s stance on the EU referendum, tweeted: ‘Its extraordinary that a shadow cabinet member -doing an excellent job in their brief – should be sacked for standing up for our principles and advocating a Brexit policy that commands the overwhelming support of our members, supporters and voters. What has happened to our party?’
Shadow housing minister Tony Lloyd, pictured, will be replacing Mr Smith
He added: ‘It is also worth remembering: @OwenSmith_MP was a public advocate of a people’s vote on the deal, Single Market and Customs Union membership BEFORE he was appointed Shadow Northern Ireland Sec – its not as if the views he has voiced since his appointment were not already known.’
Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable said: ‘Shame to see @OwenSmith_MP sacked for simply repeating the view of the majority of Labour members and, I suspect, MPs.’
Lord Hain, the Labour former Northern Ireland secretary, tweeted: ‘This is a terrible Stalinist purge. Owen Smith has been doing a terrific job on Northern Ireland, he’s ideal for the role with his experience, expertise and considerable ability. Widely respected.
‘In a Shadow Cabinet with few big hitters he was definitely one.’
A Labour official said Mr Smith was sacked for repeatedly breaking from the party’s position on Brexit, including advocating remaining in the EU single market.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: ‘Owen Smith was a valued colleague, he wanted to make a contribution to the debate and he will be able to continue to do so.
‘What he can’t do is sit on our front bench and advance a position which is simply not Labour Party policy.’
Miss Abbott herself wrote to constituents in November saying that she would ‘argue for the right of the electorate to vote’ on the Brexit deal.
But she told Radio 4’s Any Questions: ‘We have debated this in the Labour Party, debated it seriously. But we are not calling for a second referendum.’
Owen Smith hit back at the decision to sack him on Twitter, saying his views are ‘shared by Labour members and supporters’
In a statement, Mr Corbyn said of Mr Lloyd: ‘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’