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Labour's Brexit split deepens as Corbyn SACKS three shadow ministers for joining a Chuka Umunna-led rebellion of 49 MPs who voted in favour of Britain STAYING in the single market in defiance of leader's policy

June 30, 2017 5:32 AM
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Labour's Brexit policy was exposed as a shambles last night as the party’s divisions were laid bare.

Jeremy Corbyn was forced to sack three shadow ministers after they defied his orders not to back a ‘soft’ Brexit.

The Labour leader has been accused of cynically trying to face both ways on Europe. He is desperate to keep the support of both the party’s Brexit-backing Northern heartlands and pro-Remain cities such as London.

But he suffered a humiliating rebellion yesterday as nearly 50 Labour MPs – a fifth of his party – supported an amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for Britain to remain in the EU single market and the customs union.

Shadow ministers Andy Slaughter, Ruth Cadbury and Catherine West were fired for joining the revolt. Shadow transport minister Daniel Zeichner quit before the vote.

Commons Speaker John Bercow created trouble for Mr Corbyn by selecting the amendment, which was tabled by Labour’s former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna.

Mr Corbyn, who has committed to leaving the single market but says he wants to keep all of its ‘benefits’, ordered his MPs to abstain.

But 49 Labour MPs backed the amendment, revealing deep divisions in the party. The rebels were joined by 34 SNP MPs, all 12 Liberal Democrats, the four Plaid Cymru MPs, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas and Independent Lady Hermon, but the amendment was defeated 322-101.

Tory MP James Cleverly said: ‘Labour are in total chaos – there is deep division at the heart of the Labour Party on the most crucial issue facing the country today.

Angus Brendan MacNeil (Scottish National Party - Na h-Eileanan an Iar)

Stuart C. McDonald (Scottish National Party - Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East)

Gavin Newlands (Scottish National Party - Paisley and Renfrewshire North)

Jamie Stone (Liberal Democrat - Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

Mhairi Black (Scottish National Party - Paisley and Renfrewshire South)

Dr Lisa Cameron (Scottish National Party - East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow)

The vote appears to contradict claims that there is no majority in the House of Commons in favour of leaving the single market and customs union.

Mr Umunna called on the Government to ‘get real’ about Brexit as he urged ministers to stay inside the European single market.

But closing the Queen’s Speech debate, Business Secretary Greg Clark criticised him, saying: ‘He wants a good deal from Brexit with a parliamentary vote that involves transitional arrangements, respects the devolved administrations, and protects rights – so do I.

Labour’s official position is that Britain will leave the single market.

Official Labour policy backs a full withdrawal from the single market, with negotiations to regain access to the trading bloc.

Labour's MPs were ordered to abstain on the vote in the Commons but analysis of the division revealed the rebels.

Mr Umunna's measure was heavily defeated 322 to 101. The rebel tally was 49 Labour MPs, who were joined by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and others from minor parties.

The vote on Brexit came after Theresa May successfully fought off a Labour bid to derail the entire Queen's Speech.

The Prime Minister took a big step towards pushing her legislative programme through parliament as she overcame a Labour wrecking amendment with a relatively comfortable majority of 26.

Moving his rebel amendment, Mr Umunna told MPs the UK would not be able to get the same benefits outside the market as it would being a member.

He added there were considerable social justice arguments for staying in the single market, such as protecting the public purse from a major economic shock as well as the workplace rights, environmental rights and consumer protection it provides.

'Let's get real about this,' Mr Umunna said. 'Some say we could have all of these things on our own, we don't need to be part of the single market.

'But large, multi-national companies work across borders to maximise their profits and reduce these protections.

He added: 'I say to the Government look, yes you can look at other countries as a guide - Norway, the rest - but we are the United Kingdom.

'The fifth biggest economy in the world, the second biggest military power, the home of Shakespeare, we created the world wide web.

Closing the Queen's Speech debate, Business Secretary Greg Clark criticised the amendment put forward by Mr Umunna.

He said: 'He (Mr Umunna) wants a good deal from Brexit with a parliamentary vote that involves transitional arrangements, respects the devolved administrations, and protects rights - so do I.

'But when he adds to that this membership of the single market does he not recall that only three weeks ago he was running on a programme promising to leave it.

Tory MP James Cleverly said: 'When it comes to Brexit, Labour are in total chaos - there is deep division at the heart of the Labour Party on the most crucial issue facing the country today – they still can't agree on the fundamentals and would get the worst Brexit deal at the highest price.

Earlier, the weakness of Mrs May's position had already been underlined when she bowed to a change put forward by Labour backbencher Stella Creasy.

The MP's amendment had called for women subject to tough abortion laws in Northern Ireland to have access to free treatment in England.

Significant numbers of Conservative MPs had indicated they would either support the move or abstain - destroying Mrs May's wafer-thin majority.

The government acted to avert the defeat by pledging £1million a year of funding for Northern Ireland women to have abortions in England. Ms Creasy later withdrew the amendment saying she was 'satisfied'.

Mr Corbyn tabled an amendment that demands ministers secure 'exactly the same' benefits as the EU single market in Brexit negotiations.

But he is bracing for a rebellion of his own with a slew of MPs defying him by calling for a guarantee that the UK stays a member of the single market.

Ms Creasy's amendment has been seconded by Tory MP Peter Bottomley, and a number of other Conservatives such as former equalities minister Maria Miller could choose to vote for it or abstain.

The measure states that 'all UK citizens including those from Northern Ireland may access medical services including abortion procedures in England if they so wish without charge'.

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr yesterday seemed to suggest the party would not force a showdown on the issue, saying 'this is not a matter for Belfast, this is a matter for NHS England'.

Governments with substantial majorities would typically ignore such efforts to tweak the Queen's Speech, even if they were popular across the House, on the basis that they can be dealt with in specific legislation.

However, the tight arithmetic of the current parliament means Mrs May had little choice but to succumb.


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