John Ashmore: Europe hoodoo settles over Labour with Article 50 vote

Written by John Ashmore on 2 February 2017 in Opinion

MPs backed the European Union Bill by 498 votes to 114 on Wednesday night, with 47 Labour rebels voting against.

So far so easy with the Brexit Bill. A whopping 384 majority saw the legislation sail through the Commons, with only 114 MPs voting against. That was made up of 50 SNP, 47 Labour, 7 Lib Dems, a smattering of other parties and 1 Ken Clarke. (Read a full list of those who voted against here.)

By some strange political sorcery, the Europe hoodoo seems to have bid the Tories farewell and settled over Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party.

In other instances Corbyn's leadership might have been blamed for such a massive rebellion. In this case he faced an impossible task - not adopting a proper party line on the defining issue of the day would have been ridiculous, but he knew there was a phalanx of Remain-supporting MPs from Remain-supporting seats who would not go along with it.

Imagine the chuckles in CCHQ as they put together their post-vote statement about Labour being "hopelessly divided". They might also have been laughing at their own chutzpah in claiming Labour "aren't interested in controlling our own laws or immigration", as if that hadn't been Conservative party policy until June.

The shadow cabinet is depleted for the time being, with Rachael Maskell and Dawn Butler joining Jo Stevens in quitting the top team. Some 15 members of the shadow ministerial team rebelled, including the farcical situation of three of the whips' office - Jeff Smith, Vicky Foxcroft and Thangam Debonnaire - voting against their own three-line whip.

We should find out later what disciplinary action Corbyn takes against the frontbench rebels. Again, he's in a tricky spot. Doing nothing might lead to suggestions he doesn't have control of his parliamentary party (perish the thought), on the other he's barely got enough MPs willing to shadow the government as it is.

As for the Tories, the Times reports rumblings about possible amendments to secure the rights of EU citizens already here. They include a guarantee that the 3.3 million EU citizens living in Britain will be allowed to say and enjoy the same rights after Brexit.

David Davis assured colleagues at a private meeting last night that “only a couple” of countries remained to convince to sign up to a reciprocal rights plan, with another senior Tory saying party bosses now need to "sort the endgame" ahead of the third reading.

The threat seems real enough, with one rebel telling the paper there are  "more than half a dozen who could vote against the government and lots more abstentions”.



This commentary first appeared in the PoliticsHome breakfast memo.

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John Ashmore is chief reporter on


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