Mr Smith broke ranks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today when he reopened the question of whether Brexit was “the right choice for the country” in an op-ed published in the Guardian and urged his party to offer the public a second referendum on the final Brexit deal.
He was sacked and replaced with immediate effect by Tony Lloyd, MP for Rochdale.
Mr Smith took to Twitter immediately after the decision became public, where he said that had been sacked for his views on the “damage” Brexit will do to the UK’s economy and the Good Friday Agreement.
He wrote: “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.”
Pro-European Labour former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Peter Hain called Mr Corbyn’s decision to sack Mr Smith “a terrible Stalinist purge”.
He wrote on Twitter: “This is a terrible Stalinist purge.
“@OwenSmith_MP 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.”
Labour MP Anna Turley said it was “disappointing” and Mr Smith would be a loss to the front bench.
Jeremy Corbyn sacked Owen Smith after the shadow secretary called for a second EU referendum
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.
— Owen Smith (@OwenSmith_MP) March 23, 2018
Mr Smith, who challenged Mr Corbyn for the party leadership in 2016 claiming that the party needed a leadership able to do something more than “just back a soft Brexit”, voiced his views on a second EU referndum in an op-ed on the Guardian, published at 6am today.
Mr Smith 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 £350 million 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.”
Owen Wilson challenged Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in 2016
Mr Smith also said that remaining in the EU single market and customs union was the only way to meet the UK’s commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.
“If we insist on leaving the EU then 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.
“I’m pleased my party has taken a big step in this direction by backing continued customs union membership, but we need to go further.”
Prominent pro-EU Labour MP Chuka Umunna described Mr Smith’s comments as “excellent”.
Mr Umunna joined the pro-EU Labour who took to Twitter to protest againt the party’s leader decision to sack Mr Smith.
In a series of tweets, he said: “It’s 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?
“And sacking @OwenSmith_MP does not alter the truth of what he says: staying in the Customs Unions *and* the Single Market is the only way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland”.
This is a terrible Stalinist purge @OwenSmith_MP 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 https://t.co/hq5mpdbsOx
— Peter Hain (@PeterHain) March 23, 2018
Mr Smith’s call for a second referendum on the final Brexit deal reopened the Labour divisions between moderate and pro-EU backbenchers and Mr Corbyn, who some of his party’s members subtly accused in the part of being a Brexiteers.
Mr Corbyn has been careful to say that Labour is not seeking a referendum on a Brexit deal, but has avoided completely ruling out such a vote.
Labour leader quickly replaced Mr Smith, less than an hour after he had made his comment.
Mr Smith took to Twitter together with fellow pro-EU party members to criticise Mr Corbyn’s decision
Mr Corbyn said of newly appointed Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary 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.”
Mr Lloyd 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.”