The shadow chancellor has praised “dignified” MPs who defied a three-line whip to vote against triggering Brexit, revealing that twelve frontbench MPs may not be fired for defying the party line.
Around a fifth of Labour’s MPs (47) abstained or voted against the Article 50 bill, including a dozen frontbenchers and three party whips, who are supposed to ensure other MPs vote correctly.
Even the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, did not vote for the bill, leaving Parliament suddenly claiming she was ill.
“We’re all uncomfortable with the position, we campaigned for Remain, but we’re democrats and we have to accept the will of the people…” John McDonnell told Radio4’s Today programme Thursday morning.
“The parliamentary convention will apply, which is that if you’re in the cabinet or shadow cabinet you will stand down,” he claimed. “But for other positions, that will be for the chief whip to report and that will be in due course.”
Hard to overstate how extraordinary this decision by Corbyn is – 3 line whips are now just advisory. Means Labour now in outright anarchy. https://t.co/caTafiyd43
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) February 2, 2017
When asked if other senior MPs and frontbenchers could keep their jobs after defying the three-line whip, he said: “I’m not going to pre-empt what the whip will recommend.”
He then praised the “understanding and mutual respect people have for their different positions” in the party, as well as the “dignified” statements of Tulip Siddiq MP, who resigned from the frontbench to vote against Brexit.
“We understand and we respect that, and that’s the atmosphere in the Labour Party at the moment,” he added.
A three-line whip is a strict instruction to attend parliament and vote for or against a motion, breach of which normally has serious consequences including expulsion from the parliamentary political group and even the party itself.
Rachael Maskell, the shadow environment secretary, and Dawn Butler, the shadow equalities minister, quit their posts yesterday to vote against the Labour leader’s instruction.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn thanked the pair last night. “MPs have a duty to represent their constituents as well as their party, and I understand the difficulties that MPs for constituencies which voted Remain have in relation to the European Union withdrawal bill,” he said.
According to The Times, he added: “However, it is right that the Labour Party respects the outcome of the referendum on leaving the European Union.”
Jo Stevens, the shadow Welsh secretary, was the first to quit last week. She said she believed leaving the EU would be a “terrible mistake” and could not defy the majority of her constituents who voted to stay in the bloc.
Speaking Thursday morning, Mr. McDonnell claimed Labour has “accepted” Brexit is going ahead, but would not accept a “really hard” Brexit whereby the UK pulls out of the Single Market to take back control of its borders.
The EU brought many benefits, he added, but there were “perceived” problems with the bloc that “motivated people to vote Leave”.