Veteran heckled by own party as first of eight Brexit sessions lays bare divisions in both main parties
LABOUR MPS turned on their veteran colleague Frank Field in the House of Commons yesterday for daring to suggest that voters in the party’s electoral heartlands supported Brexit.
Mr Field was heckled by Labour MPS as he told them they “needed educating” to accept that the majority of their constituents voted to leave the European Union.
Divisions in both the Labour and Conservative parties were laid bare as MPS began the first of eight sessions in the Commons about the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill which formally writes into British law thousands of Brussels regulations after the UK has left the EU.
Mr Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead, said that as a Brexiteer – while he was backed by most members of the public – he was not supported by most Labour MPS.
To jeering and catcalls from fellow Labour MPS, he said: “I am supported by people largely whose constituents agree with me and not their views. And how they deal with that is not my problem. I agree it is a difficult problem.
“Generally speaking, the larger the Labour majority in a general election – and the one before that and the one before that – the more likely they were to vote leaving. Labour voters – the larger the majorities generally speaking – the more clearly they spoke about Brexit.”
As Labour MPS reacted with fury, and tried to interrupt, Mr Field, a former minister in Tony Blair’s government, said it was the “Labour side that needs educating as to where Labour voters are”. During the debate Sir Bill Cash, the veteran Tory chairman of the EU scrutiny committee, said millions of people had died for the freedoms offered by Brexit. He said: “We have just had Remembrance Day. I just want people to reflect on the fact that those millions of people who died in those two world wars died for a reason – it was to do with sustaining the freedom of democracy in this House.
“My own father was killed in Normandy fighting for this country ... People understand the real reasons why self-government is so important. The European Communities Act was the greatest power grab since Oliver Cromwell.”
Kenneth Clarke, the pro-eu former Tory chancellor, won cheers from Labour and SNP MPS when he declared he was now the “rebel” in the Tory party. He said: “He [Bill Cash] now represents orthodoxy, party loyalty. I’m the rebel. I espouse the policies that the Conservative Party has followed for the 50 years of my membership of it until we had a referendum 18 months ago.”
Mr Clarke said that amending Brexit legislation to include Britain’s exit date from the European Union could be “positively harmful to the national interest” and was “ridiculous and unnecessary”.
Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general who is leading a group of Tory MPS who want to amend the Bill, said Brexit was a “great and historic error” and a “process of national self-mutilation”. And he attacked the decision by Theresa May, the Prime Minister, last week to back a “mad amendment” to the Bill to set a time and date when the UK leaves the EU.
Mr Grieve, who himself has tabled 19 changes to the Bill, said the amendment had not been discussed with other Cabinet ministers saying it was tabled “without any collective decision-making in government at all”.
It had also been “accompanied with blood-curdling threats that anybody who might stand in its way was in some way betraying the country’s destiny and mission. I am afraid I am just not prepared to go along with that.”
Anna Soubry, another pro-eu MP, reiterated her determination to rebel: “The date going into the Bill has really upset a lot of really top-quality backbench Conservative MPS.
“There were some people there who have never rebelled and they are now talking, for the first time ever, of rebelling.”
Ms Soubry also called Bernard Jenkin, a senior Tory MP who backed Brexit, a “disgrace” when he said MPS who voted to trigger Article 50 but did not back a leaving date and time “are open to the charge that they do not want us to leave” the EU.
Speaking for the Government, Steve Baker, a Brexit department minister, said it was “an essential Bill in the national interest which will ensure that whatever the outcome of the negotiations the statute book can continue function.
“The amendments would have the consequence of destroying this Bill’s capacity to function in the event a withdrawal agreement was not concluded,’ he said.
“And let me be clear, as a consequence of these amendments the Bill’s crucial provisions could not come into effect until a second Act was passed.
“The consequence would be legal chaos in the event that the second Act was not passed before March 29 2019.”
‘I am supported by people largely whose constituents agree with me and not their views. And how they deal with that is not my problem’
Above, Frank Field attracts the ire of his Labour colleagues on the Commons benches after saying they ‘needed educating’ about their constituents’ views