Owen Smith rejects Jeremy Corbyn’s account of his resignation as leadership rivals trade blows
Owen Smith has disputed Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that he misled the Labour leader in advance of his resignation from the Shadow Cabinet.
Mr Smith, who is vying to become Labour’s new leader, was one of about 60 frontbenchers to step down in protest at Mr Corbyn’s leadership in the wake of the EU referendum.
Speaking this morning, Mr Corbyn claimed in a meeting two weeks ago Mr Smith said he was “very happy” in the Shadow Cabinet and wanted to remain as shadow work and pensions secretary.
Mr Smith later tendered his resignation from the front bench following the talks, a move Mr Corbyn today branded “slightly odd”.
But a spokesperson for Mr Smith’s leadership campaign disputed the veteran leftwinger's version of events.
The spokesperson claimed Mr Smith, along with frontbenchers Lisa Nandy, John Healey, Nia Griffith and Kate Green, went into the discussions hoping to leave with the confidence that Mr Corbyn was willing and able to bring the party together.
“At the end of the meeting it was clear that Jeremy Corbyn would not and could not respond to their concerns with a concrete plan and commitment to unite the party," the spokesperson added.
“It was evident they were not happy with Jeremy’s response and proposals. Immediately following this meeting they resigned.”
Speaking after the launch of his bid to retain the Labour leadership, Mr Corbyn stepped up his attack against his rival and maintained his account of Mr Smith’s resignation.
He also rejected Mr Smith’s offer of appointing him president of the Labour party should the former frontbencher emerge victorious on 24 September.
“Owen Smith was shadow work and pensions secretary. I appointed him last year to that position. We worked very well together in opposing the cuts in working tax credits,” he told Sky News.
“Two weeks ago he came to see me to assure me of his support and then, mysteriously, a few days later decided the support was no longer there.
"He is now offering me a position, if he were elected leader, that does not exist and is not in his gift to offer anyway. That’s not the kind of politics that I want to be involved in.”
Speaking to the Guardian, Mr Smith said he was left “furious” by his rival's performance at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, accusing Mr Corbyn of turning Labour into a “laughing stock”.
Mr Smith has come under scrutiny for his former position at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, where he worked as head of government affairs.
The leader's allies have attacked the Pontypridd MP for putting his name to a press release in 2005 which said “choice is a good thing and... patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda” for the health service.
Mr Smith yesterday hit back at “lies” about his views on the National Health Service, saying any suggestion he was backing more market involvement in the NHS was untrue.
Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott argued party members would look unfavourably at Mr Smith’s previous employment at Pfizer in the upcoming leadership contest.
Mr Corbyn called on Mr Smith to agree that the NHS should be free at the point of use.
He said: "I just hope that - and I'm sure he will - that Owen will come fully on board on the idea of the NHS being totally public, and publicly employed people running it."