Jeremy Corbyn to be automatically included on Labour leadership ballot

British Labour leader does not need to get the support of at least 51 party MPs

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Image: Jonathan Brady / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Jeremy Corbyn will be able to automatically run in a Labour leadership race after a ruling by the party's NEC executive.

The group has decided the Labour chief does not need to get the support of at least 51 of his MPs and MEPs to take part in the contest.

18 committee members voted to put him on the ballot automatically, while 14 said he should have to get the required nominations.

Reaching the 51 target was by no means certain as many of his party's politicians at Westminster recently voted against him in a no confidence motion.

If he had not been allowed automatically on the ballot, Mr Corbyn's team could have taken legal action.

The committee received conflicting legal advice ahead of its meeting in London.

Labour-commissioned analysis said Mr Corbyn needed nominations from MPs to stand again.

However, advice backed by the Unite union -  the party's biggest financial backer - concluded he should automatically be included on the ballot as a sitting leader.

Before the crunch meeting, he won messages of support from a string of trade unions, with the boss of Unite warning against a "sordid fix" to keep him off the ballot paper.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said it would be "alien to the concept of natural justice" if Mr Corbyn was blocked from defending his position.

The union warned it would "leave a stain on party unity that might prove permanent".

Mr Corbyn was elected as leader last September and party members and registered supporters voted for him in large numbers. 

But he has never enjoyed massive support from his own MPs.

Late last month, he lost the vote of no confidence among Labour MPs by 172 to 40.

And many of his shadow cabinet resigned after the EU referendum, or are boycotting meetings.

To challenge the leader, a candidate needs the backing of 20% of Labour MPs and MEPs - in other words, 51 people.

Angela Eagle - a former member of the shadow cabinet - has already launched her leadership challenge.

Ex-shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith is expected to announce that he too has gained enough support.

Once the candidates are decided on, the winner will be chosen using the Alternative Vote system, which means voters rank the candidates in order of preference, until one of them wins a majority.

It is likely the winner will be announced at the party conference in September.