Revolt stuns Corbyn
Six frontbenchers walk out as 89 defy him in Brexit vote storm
JEREMY Corbyn suffered a frontbench walkout last night as dozens of Labour MPs rebelled by voting to keep Britain in the single market.
Six members of his frontbench team resigned in protest at orders to abstain on the issue.
A total of 74 Labour MPs voted to keep Britain in the single market, while a further 15 ignored Mr Corbyn to vote against. It was the biggest rebellion he has suffered.
The rebellion came on a Lords amendment designed to keep the UK in the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway, which has good access to the single market but has to accept the free movement of people.
The Government comfortably threw out the amendment by 327 votes to 126.
A Tory spokesman last night said the rebellion showed the depth of the splits within Labour. ‘ There have now been over 100 resignations from Jeremy Corbyn’s team,’ the spokesman said. ‘These resignations show that Jeremy Corbyn can’t lead his own party let alone our country through complex Brexit negotiations.’
Minutes before the vote, Labour confirmed that Shadow Cabinet Office minister Laura Smith had resigned to vote for the EEA amendment, along with parliamentary aides Ged Killen, Ellie Reeves, Tonia Antoniazzi and Anna McMorrin. A sixth parliamentary aide, Rosie Duffield, also later resigned over the issue.
Former Tory ministers Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Kenneth Clarke also defied their own whips to vote for the amendment.
But the issue caused the deepest splits in the Labour ranks. ProBrussels MPs had condemned Mr Corbyn’s stance, saying he was missing an opportunity to defeat the Government.
Mr Corbyn, a long-time critic of the EU’s competition and state aid rules, is reluctant to keep Britain in the single market, fearing it could stifle his dream of imposing socialism on Britain.
Former minister Caroline Flint voted with the Government against the EEA amendment, saying that staying in the single market would betray leave voters in her Doncaster constituency who wanted an end to free movement.
Miss Flint rounded on her proRemain colleagues, saying her constituents had been insulted ‘day in and day out by some of the comments in this place and outside’. She said her constituents were ‘not against all migration’, but said they ‘do want to have a sense that we can turn the tap on and off when we choose’.
She added: ‘Also they want us to answer the question why hasn’t Britain got the workforce it needs, why has social mobility stopped, why do we train fewer doctors than Holland or Ireland and why are these jobs dominated by those in the middle and upper classes so my constituents don’t get a look in?’
But a string of Labour MPs spoke in support of staying in the EEA. Former Europe spokesman Pat McFadden said it would be ‘unwise and rash’ for any government to rule out staying in the single market.
He added: ‘We need to address working class discontent, but we do not take the first step in doing that by voting on a path to make our country poorer.’
Fellow Labour MP Chuka Umunna accepted that staying in the EEA would mean keeping free movement – and acknowledged public concerns about immigration. But he said ending free movement ‘is not going to solve these problems and we know it’.
Emma Reynolds said: ‘I acknowledge the EEA isn’t perfect but for the minute the combination of the EEA and the customs union is the only way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.’
Resigned: Labour frontbencher Ged Killen, with Jeremy Corbyn