Labour rift

Vet­eran heck­led by own party as first of eight Brexit ses­sions lays bare di­vi­sions in both main par­ties

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Christo­pher Hope, Steven Swin­ford and Ver­ity Ryan

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

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