A sight to glad­den Tory hearts: a dif­fer­ent party tear­ing it­self apart

The Daily Telegraph - - Brexit Debate - Michael Dea­con

MPs were de­bat­ing Brexit, so nat­u­rally the Com­mons was in up­roar. This time, though, it wasn’t Labour ver­sus Tories. It was Labour ver­sus Labour.

To be spe­cific: it was Labour ver­sus Frank Field, one of the few Labour MPS who cam­paigned to leave the EU.

Yes­ter­day Mr Field, who rep­re­sents Birken­head, tabled an amend­ment to the EU With­drawal Bill. Mr Field wanted the bill to guar­an­tee that the UK leaves the EU on the very first sec­ond of March 30, 2019.

The Gov­ern­ment wants to guar­an­tee that the UK leaves the EU an hour ear­lier, at 11pm on March 29, 2019, but Mr Field con­sid­ers this a spine­less con­ces­sion to Brus­sels: in his view we must leave at mid­night Green­wich Mean Time, rather than mid­night Cen­tral Euro­pean Time.

“It’s about free­dom,” he told MPS stoutly. “Bri­tish time, not Euro­pean time.” His Labour col­leagues did not look im­pressed. They looked even less im­pressed, how­ever, when he ap­peared to ar­gue that most Labour vot­ers sup­ported Brexit.

“Give way!” they shouted, leap­ing up in their dozens and ges­tic­u­lat­ing irately. Mr Field was sur­rounded. Help­lessly he gave way to Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Pe­narth), who de­manded he cor­rect the record: most Labour vot­ers had ac­tu­ally voted Re­main.

Mr Field re­fused to back down. “Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the larger the Labour ma­jor­ity in a gen­eral elec­tion, the more likely they were to vote Leave,” he said vaguely.

Mr Doughty pulled a face and shook his head. Other Labour MPS groaned, heck­led, and leapt up in num­ber to in­ter­rupt Mr Field once again.

Lind­say Hoyle, the Deputy Speaker, or­dered them to sit down and be quiet. Re­luc­tantly they obeyed.

Mr Field re­sumed. Im­me­di­ately the Labour MPS all leapt up and started shout­ing again. “The Labour side needs ed­u­cat­ing as to where our vot­ers are,” sighed Mr Field. His col­leagues howled. Di­rectly be­hind him, David Lammy (Lab, Tot­ten­ham) rolled his eyes. The fun, how­ever, had only just be­gun. Next Mr Field ar­gued that it was es­sen­tial to con­firm the date for Brexit be­cause he had “never bought a house with­out set­ting in the con­tract the date it be­comes mine”.

Hilary Benn (Lab, Leeds Cen­tral), sit­ting right be­side him, told him this anal­ogy didn’t ac­tu­ally work, be­cause “No one agrees the date to move in be­fore they know what it is they’re buy­ing.”

Other Labour MPS cheered and laughed. Stiffly Mr Field rose.

“I’ve al­ways bought my houses,” he sniffed, “never in­her­ited them”.

In­stant bed­lam. Quite nakedly, Mr Field’s re­mark was a jab at the aris­to­cratic lin­eage of Mr Benn (his fa­ther Tony was briefly Vis­count Stans­gate, be­fore re­nounc­ing the ti­tle).

Mr Benn threw up his arms in con­ster­na­tion. “I bought my house!” he protested, just about au­di­ble above the fury of other Labour MPS.

“Dis­grace­ful!” they shouted at Mr Field. “Dis­grace­ful!” Hastily Mr Field apol­o­gised and with­drew his in­sult.

On the op­po­site benches, Tory MPS beamed. A party was tear­ing it­self apart over Europe, and for once, it wasn’t theirs.

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