Labour’s ruling body has decided that Jeremy Corbyn will automatically be included on the ballot in the party’s leadership contest.

The party’s National Executive Committee’s decision on the Labour leader, means he doesn’t need the requisite 51 nominations like other candidates.

The NEC also suspended all local Constituency Labour Party meetings until the end of the leadership campaign, following complaints of harassment and intimidation.

Upon leaving the Labour Party’s HQ, a defiant Jeremy Corbyn said MPs will understand they have to come together after it was agreed to automatically include him on the ballot in the party’s leadership contest.

The Opposition leader said he was “delighted” that the secret vote of the ruling National Executive Committee went in his favour after hours of discussions.

But the ruling will come as a major blow to the majority of Labour’s MPs who are desperate to overthrow the party leader. Corbyn lost a vote of no-confidence in June following mass resignations from his shadow cabinet, but vowed to fight any challenge.

As jubilant supporters cheered Mr Corbyn, he told reporters: “I’m sure Labour MPs will understand that the party has to come together in order to present to the British people the options of a different and better way of doing things.”

After the NEC’s decision, a second Labour MP – former shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith – threw his hat into the ring in the race to challenge Corbyn for the party leadership, joining Angela Eagle.

Former shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith joined the race, claiming he would be a “radical and credible” leader who could take Labour back into power.

Mr Smith launched his bid on Wednesday morning, and will have to collect 51 nominations from MPs – unlike Corbyn who will now automatically be on the ballot at the incumbent.

Owen Smith is in the leadership race

Owen Smith is in the leadership race

The Pontypridd MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was the right decision to ensure that Mr Corbyn can take part in the contest.

He accused some on the right of the party of acting in a way which could “split” Labour.

He said: “I will stand in this election and I will do the decent thing and fight Jeremy Corbyn on the issues, just as he will do with me, and at the end of that I will stand behind whoever the leader is.

“But I hope and I expect it will be me.”