UNITE general secretary Len McCluskey on Saturday issued an important statement refuting claims that Jeremy Corbyn was responsible for Tom Watson’s withdrawal from union-led efforts to re-unite Labour.

He said: ‘I am dismayed at the statement issued by Tom Watson announcing his withdrawal from talks aimed at resolving the crisis in the Labour Party.

‘Extraordinarily I received no notice of this statement before it was issued. I had made arrangements for a meeting of trade union leaders, Tom Watson and representatives of the PLP and the Party Leader for tomorrow, arrangements requested by Tom Watson and his colleagues, specifically for Mr Watson’s convenience.

‘In that context, when the possibility of a workable plan had never seemed closer, Tom Watson’s actions today can only look like an act of sabotage fraught with peril for the future of the Labour Party.

‘I must clarify one point in Tom Watson’s statement – I made it absolutely clear from the outset of these discussions that Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation as the Leader was not on the agenda.

‘Mr Watson knew that, and it is entirely wrong to suggest that any public statement by Jeremy represented any change in the situation. This is a deeply disingenuous manoeuvre.

‘I will continue to work with trade union colleagues and others to chart a way forward, including meeting the legitimate concerns of Labour MPs.

‘Should there have to be a leadership election, I must warn that any attempts to keep Jeremy Corbyn, elected just ten months ago with an enormous mandate, off the ballot paper by legal means risks a lasting division in the Party.

‘It is time for everyone to commit to a democratic and dignified procedure as the only way to avert such a disaster for working people.’

• Yesterday Unison’s National Labour Link Conference met and overwhelmingly backed Jeremy Corbyn.

As Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, put it: ‘If there is a leadership election we will follow our procedures, but my very very very strong view is that Unison would support Jeremy in any election.

‘He will go on the ballot paper and he will win.’