- Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
- Jeremy Corbyn sacks Andy Slaughter, Ruth Cadbury, and Catherine West for backing Britain remaining in the single market. Labour’s big beasts, including Hilary Benn, side with Corbyn. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage praises Labour leader for showing his “true Brexit colours.”
LONDON – Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sacked three shadow frontbenchers on Thursday night after they defied his instructions over a Brexit vote in the House of Commons.
MPs Andy Slaughter, Ruth Cadbury, and Catherine West were among 50 Labour MPs who broke ranks to vote in favour of an amendment calling for Britain to stay in the single market after Brexit.
The amendment was tabled by Labour MP and staunch Europhile Chuka Umunna during a Commons vote on the Queen’s Speech on Thursday. It was voted down along with all other opposition amendments put to the floor.
The Labour Party promised in its general election manifesto to take Britain out of the single market as part of its Brexit strategy and Corbyn ordered his MPs to abstain from Thursday’s vote.
Nearly a fifth of Labour MPs, however, defied the Labour leader to support Umunna’s amendment. Labour MP Daniel Zeichner quit his role as shadow transport minister before the vote to support it.
Cadbury MP told the BBC only staying within the single market would allow Britain to protect jobs after Brexit. “I had no doubt that I had to support the amendment moved by Labour colleagues with cross-party support,” she said.
“The amendment ruled out withdrawing from the EU without a deal, sought a parliamentary vote on the final negotiations, and proposed remaining in the customs union and single market.
“Only then can we protect jobs, trade and certainty for business, as well as protecting the rights of EU citizens, with reciprocal rights for UK citizens.”
Zeichner said he was stepping down from the shadow front bench with “great regret” but added:”My position on Europe has always been clear. I am a passionate pro-European and a straight-forward politician.”
Labour’s big beasts back Corbyn
Labour under Corbyn’s leadership has been no stranger to rebellions and divide. However, in this most recent case, big beasts of the party who once criticised Corbyn’s decisions appear to be siding with empowered Labour leader.
His deputy Tom Watson, who Corbyn has had a tricky relationship with since the pair were elected in 2015, came out to defend the Labour leader’s strict stance, saying he was disappointed with Umunna for trying to “divide” the party.
“I just felt that given we’d come out of the general election with such an unexpected result, and there’s a real euphoria, to try and divide Labour MPs a week and a half in was a little disappointing,” Watson said. “But, you know, we’re still buzzing, we still want to hold the government to account, we’ll get over it and move on.”
- REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
Former cabinet minister Hilary Benn also defended Corbyn’s position. Benn, who heads the parliamentary Brexit committee, told the BBC: “I think we recognise that membership of the single market creates a difficulty because… you can’t control free movement if you are in the single market.”
He added: “The policy on which we fought the election was to say that we wish to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union. I think if the reference to the single market had not been in Chuka’s amendment then you would’ve seen a different outcome.”
Being forced into yet another frontbench reshuffle so soon after the general election is not an ideal scenario for Corbyn. But unlike many of the other bold steps he has taken during his leadership, his decision to discipline high-ranking MPs for defying his orders appears to have the support of the party majority, including most senior figures.
Corbyn accused of betraying Labour voters
Shortly after yesterday’s vote, the Lib Dems accused Corbyn of letting down Remainers who voted Labour in the June 8 election, to help the party win 40% of the national vote.
“Millions of people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn were hoping for a new approach to Brexit,” leader Tim Farron said. “They will be feeling utterly betrayed tonight that he has yet again failed to oppose this government’s extreme Brexit agenda.”
Nigel Farage applauded Corbyn for showing his “true Brexit colours” in a tweet posted on Thursday evening.
Corbyn showing his true Brexit colours. He's almost a proper chap. https://t.co/7hFqiImi0o
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) June 29, 2017
The Labour Party leadership will argue it has always said that Britain must leave the single market as part of Brexit in order to respect last year’s result.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show following the general election, Corbyn said: “The single market is a requirement of EU membership and since we won’t be EU members there will have to be an arrangement made.”
His shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was even clearer. He told ITV’s Robert Peston on the same day: “I can’t see it even being on the table in the negotiations, I don’t think it’s feasible.”