New blow for leader
Labour loses business spokesman as Brexit bill passed
Labour’s business spokesman delivered another blow to Jeremy Corbyn last night by resigning from the shadow cabinet over the party’s support for the Brexit bill.
Mr Lewis, a rising star of the left, was among 52 Labour MPs to defy his party’s three-line whip. He became the fourth shadow cabinet member to resign.
Despite the rebellion, the bill to trigger Article 50 which fires the starting gun on negotiations, was passed with a convincing Commons majority of 372.
Mr Lewis represents Norwich South, a constituency that voted strongly to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum, and last night said. “in all good conscience” he could not vote for something he believes “will ultimately harm the city I have the honour to represent, love and call home.
“It is therefore with a heavy heart that I have decided to resign from the shadow cabinet.”
Mr Corbyn said: “I would like to thank Clive for his work in the shadow cabinet, which has underlined what an asset he is to the Labour party and our movement.
“I understand the difficulties MPs representing constituencies which voted remain have in relation to the European Union withdrawal bill. MPs have a duty to represent their constituents as well as their party.
“However, the Labour party respects the outcome of the EU referendum, so we have asked all Labour MPs to vote for the bill at its third reading.”
Diane Abbott, the Hackney North MP who was absent from last week’s second reading of the bill, claiming illness, voted in favour of the bill.
Its emphatic passage through the Commons means that Prime Minister Theresa May is on course to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.
The government made a number of concessions to ensure the bill won support from its own backbenchers, including the promise of a white paper setting out its negotiating priorities. MPs will get to vote on the exit deal ahead of it being discussed in the European parliament.
Brexit secretary David Davis said: “We’ve seen a historic vote tonight – a big majority for getting on with negotiating our exit from the EU and a strong, new partnership with its member states.”
The bill must now be approved by the House of Lords, which will begin debating it after peers return from recess on 20 February.
The Liberal Democrats have vowed to continue trying to amend the legislation after it comes to the Lords, while pro-Europe Tory and Labour peers may also try and make changes to the bill.
Mr Davis called on peers to “do their patriotic duty” and not obstruct the bill’s passage into law. Downing Street played down reports that the Lords would face demands for abolition if they opposed the bill.
In a Point of Order to Parliament, the SNP’s International Affairs spokesperson condemned the UK government for rushing through the bill with little debate, no report stage, no 3rd reading, and for refusing to accept a single amendment – pointing out a bill has not been passed in a similar manner since the Defence of the Realm Act of 1914.
Commenting, Alex Salmond MP said: “The UK government’s behaviour on the EU bill has been a disgrace. We have not seen a bill pass under such draconian circumstances for over 100 years – since the emergency powers bill in the First World War.
“The Tories revealed their full contempt for Scotland and for our parliamentary democracy – railroading Article 50 through Westminster with little time for debate and refusing to accept a single amendment.
“For this to happen on any bill would be an abuse but on a bill of this magnitude, with such huge constitutional significance – it is nothing short of an outrage.
“Scotland now faces the impending prospect of being dragged out of the EU and off the Tory hard Brexit cliff – despite the Prime Minister claiming she would not trigger Article 50 without an “agreed UK-wide approach.
“While SNP MPs worked hard to make Scotland’s voice heard the UK government refused to listen – rejecting every single amendment proposed by Scotland’s MPs and ignoring the fact that the Scottish Parliament, and 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs, voted to reject triggering Article 50 under these circumstances.
“Time is running out for Theresa May to prove that Scotland is an equal partner by agreeing to the Scottish Government’s compromise proposals to keep Scotland in the Single Market and protect our interests.
““It is not surprising support for independence in Scotland is growing as the UK government chooses to ignore Scotland’s wishes.”