How eight MPs slammed Labour for dodging conference Brexit debate
Chuka Umunna said he could not believe it. But it was not just Remain-supporting backbenchers hitting out.
To say that many Labour MPs were frustrated when party members voted against debating Brexit at the party’s annual conference would be something of an understatement.
Labour Remainers were hoping to debate the idea of the party fighting to keep Britain in the single market permanently and crusading to continue free movement.
But their luck was out after an email from Momentum advising members to push for votes on housing, social care, the NHS and rail instead. Delegates then picked eight “contemporary motions” including housing, the NHS and social care - but not a motion about the party’s policy on the future relationship with the EU.
Amid claims that Jeremy Corbyn was trying to avoid debate on the one issue where he is at odds with party members, Labour MPs vented their fury.
On Twitter, Heidi Alexander was “gobsmacked” and Chuka Umunna could not believe it.
Ben Bradshaw said keeping Brexit off the agenda was “silly” and the fiercely anti-Corbyn MP Chris Leslie went further, calling it “utterly ridiculous”.
At the Progress rally on Sunday evening, delegates shouted out “shame” and began booing as the news came in, while Progress chair Alison McGovern said it was a “huge worry”.
At the same event, Jess Phillips fumed: “It’s a disgrace that Labour members are being denied the opportunity to debate the single biggest issue facing us today.”
While members of the shadow cabinet were less critical, one did break ranks to express their unhappiness. Remain-supporting shadow City minister Jonathan Reynolds questioned the vote, calling it “a strange decision”. Sources suggested that Reynolds was understating his true feelings.
But it was not just pro-EU Labour MPs who expressed frustration. Bassetlaw MP John Mann who voted for Brexit and wants to end free movement, said: “This decision is wrong. We must have a debate in this party and the leadership must listen to the views of those ordinary union members who voted to leave.”
Momentum has insisted that it felt Brexit was being debated and wanted other areas topping the list. The Labour leadership has also stressed that Brexit is being debated on Monday, with an introduction by shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.
However, this will not see any specific votes on issues such as the single market and customs union.