Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson will hold an emergency meeting with union bosses in a "last throw of the dice" attempt to force Jeremy Corbyn to resign. Watson hopes he can strike a deal with the unions to avoid a bitter Labour civil war that could result in a split in the party.
His plans were revealed to a Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting on 4 July amid continued opposition from many MPs to Corbyn's continued tenure. Earlier in the day Watson had a one-on-one meeting with his embattled leader where he is believed to have told the Islington North MP to step down.
Staunch Corbyn refused to do so and the details of the 20-minute showdown was revealed to the PLP as veteran Labour man Neil Kinnock warned the party is now "on the edge of the abyss". Watson then told the room that talks with key unions such as Unite, the GMB and Unison will begin on 5 July.
It is understood that any deal would see Corbyn stand down as party leader — music to the ears of 172 Labour MPs who last week backed a motion of no confidence against their embattled leader.
A spokesman for Watson told the Huffington Post: "Tom told him that to continue as leader, he needs the authority of the PLP. It's not enough just to have the support of the members. But Jeremy made clear that he wasn't leaving.
"Subsequently, the union leaders have reached out to Tom and have suggested there might be a way forward, so tomorrow morning he will meet with them. Tom told the PLP it was a last throw of the dice, and said he was acutely aware that the window is closing very rapidly, but asked his colleagues to give him time to see if a deal can be done."
Former leader Kinnock told the meeting: "There has been a lot of talk about history, well let me say a little bit about history. We've been on the edge of the abyss before, but we've never been it in like this. There will never be a split. I will never give up on this party — this party is ours."
Left-wing firebrand Dennis Skinner defended Corbyn by pointing out the unparalleled support he received from party members just 10 months ago. But another veteran MP David Winnick said: "I respect you Dennis, but let me tell you there is no chance that we will be elected with Jeremy as leader."
Corbyn has so far survived a wave of resignations from his Shadow Cabinet in protest at his leadership and decision to sack shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn. Labour MPs Angela Eagle or Owen Smith could announce a challenge to his leadership in the next few days.