Jeremy Corbyn cracks the whip on Brexit… and frontbenchers fight back
As Tulip Siddiq is first to resign, this is not what was meant by ‘hand to hand’ combat...
When Emily Thornberry threatened to wage "hand-to-hand combat" over Brexit, the shadow foreign secretary was talking about fighting the government.
But a bigger scrap now seems to be occurring within Labour’s own ranks.
Jeremy Corbyn today risked a wave of frontbench resignations by imposing a three-line whip on Labour MPs to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.
Within hours, Tulip Siddiq told the leader she was quitting as shadow minister for early years.
In her resignation letter, Siddiq said her priority was to "ensure that the voices of people from Hampstead and Kilburn are represented in Parliament". Her constituency voted around 77% for Remain at the EU referendum.
The Labour leader had earlier confirmed his MPs would be ordered to support the Government’s bill calling for the invocation of the Brexit process.
Speaking to Sky News after a tense shadow cabinet meeting during which a number of frontbenchers argued for a free vote, he said: "It will be a clear decision that we want all of our MPs to support the Article 50 vote when it comes up next week. It’s clearly a three-line whip."
Corbyn also made the grammatically bogus claim that "Labour is in the almost unique position of having MPs representing constituencies in both directions".
But he urged his pro-Remain colleagues to "unite around the important issues of jobs, economy, security, rights, justice those issues, and we will frame that relationship with Europe in the future".
One of the first Labour MPs to express their astonishment at the three-line whip was the former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw.
He told the BBC’s Daily Politics show: "I think that’s a great pity. I can’t support that. I don’t know why we’re doing that. We’re supposed to be an opposition. An opposition’s job is to oppose and to scrutinise."
Shadow Foreign Office minister Catherine West, shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens and Labour whip Thangam Debbonaire were said to be considering their positions on Thursday evening.
But other prominent names in Corbyn’s top team have backtracked after signalling they could vote against the Article 50 bill.
Shadow business secretary Clive Lewis - who last week said it would not be in the “best interests” of his constituents for him to trigger the process of quitting the EU - today vowed to tow the line imposed by Corbyn.
And Corbyn loyalist Cat Smith, shadow minister for youth affairs, also confirmed that she will back the legislation.