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