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Brexit news - live: Labour 'moving closer to new EU referendum' amid fresh party splits as ninth MP this week quits

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Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
,Tom Barnes
Friday 22 February 2019 17:12 GMT
Countdown to Brexit: How many days left until Britain leaves the EU?

John McDonnell has insisted that Labour is “moving towards” supporting a second referendum as the party seeks to stem the flow of defections over Brexit.

The shadow chancellor spoke out at the end of a dramatic week when 8 Labour MPs and 3 Tories broke away to form the Independent Group, in protest at the leadership of both parties.

Dudley North MP Ian Austin became the ninth MP to quit Labour on Friday over its handling of antisemitism allegations - but he said he had no plans to join the breakaway group.

Meanwhile, Theresa May has been warned she faces a major Tory rebellion unless she takes a no-deal Brexit off the table ahead of another set of key votes on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's live Brexit coverage for Friday, 22 February.

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 08:50

Theresa May has been warned “dozens” of Tory MPs are prepared to vote to delay Brexit unless she takes the prospect of a no-deal scenario off the table.

In a major challenge to the prime minister, a group of normally loyal Leave and Remain-backing Conservatives have called for a free vote on a backbench bid from Tory grandee Oliver Letwin to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal next month.

Tory MPs Andrew Percy and Simon Hart, who lead the Brexit Delivery Group, have written to chief whip Julian Smith states that many MPs are “deeply troubled” at the prospect of no deal.

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 09:00

Breaking: Ninth Labour MP quits party

Dudley North MP Ian Austin has left what he describes as a “broken” Labour Party over allegations of antisemitism by members, claiming “ the hard left is now in charge of the party”.

Speaking to his local Express and Star newspaper, Mr Austin said he was “ashamed of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn”. He added he currently had no plans to join the new Independent Group set up in Parliament by rebel MPs this week.

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 09:12

Here’s more on Ian Austin’s resignation from the Labour Party this morning:

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 09:21

May told to ‘face down’ ERG or expect more resignations

Theresa May has been urged to “face down” members of the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) within her parliamentary party or risk more resignations from Conservative MPs.

Former minister Phillip Lee, who has been the subject of speculation that he could also leave the Conservatives, said he was “staying to fight” - but insisted the ERG must be “dealt with”.

Mr Lee told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was alarmed at the government’s Brexit policy, as well as “populist” decisions such as home secretary Sajid Javid’s move to strip Isis teenager Shamima Begum of her British citizenship.

Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston quit the Conservatives this week to join the newly-formed Independent Group, complaining about the influence of the ERG in Parliament and “Blukip” or “purple momentum” entryism in local associations.

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 09:48

Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, two of the Labour defectors who formed the Independent Group last week, have backed MP Ian Austin’s decision to leave the party this morning.

Mr Austin has stated he currently has no plans to join the Independent Group.

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 09:59

This is the state of play in the House of Commons following Ian Austin’s resignations from the Labour Party this morning.

Labour are now down to 246 MPs after shedding nine this week, while the Conservatives currently have 314 MPs following three resignations on Wednesday.

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 10:04

Ireland sets out plan to mitigate no-deal Brexit

Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Reuters)MPs in Westminster may be struggling to break the impasse over Brexit, but in Ireland, legislation is being fast-tracked through parliament in a bid to mitigate the impact of a no-deal scenario.

The Irish government has published its Omnibus Bill, which covers a wide range of governmental functions, and is designed to support businesses and jobs and secure ongoing access to essential services and products.

“Our focus remains on the UK ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement, which was concluded following intensive negotiations between the UK and the EU,” Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar said.

“However, for the last two years we have also been preparing for the possibility that the UK leaves the EU without an agreement.

“We are doing all we can to avoid a no-deal scenario, but we need to be ready in case it does happen.”

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 10:27

May and Tusk to hold talks on sidelines of Egypt summit

An EU source has told Reuters that European Council president Donald Tusk will hold a bilateral meeting with Theresa May on the sidelines of a summit in Egypt this weekend.

The prime minister was expected to would hold talks with European officials at the meeting of EU and Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh, although this is the first indication she will meet with Mr Tusk.

However, the Reuters source was unconvinced the pair would make a Brexit breakthrough during the summit.

“There will be no deal in the desert,” the official said.

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 10:41

Labour’s deputy leader and West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson says he is “deeply saddened” by the resignation of his Midlands colleague Ian Austin.

Speaking to Mr Austin’s local newspaper, the Express and Star, Mr Watson described the resignation of a ninth MP from the party in less than a week as a “serious blow”.  

“I didn’t want him to go, not just because he is a friend but because Labour needs people of his experience, calibre and passion if we are to win,” he said.

“There is no point in denying that his departure is as serious blow to my party. His resignation ends a week of turmoil in British politics that we must all reflect on.”

Mr Watson earlier this week admitted he sometimes “no longer recognises” the Labour Party, amid allegations of antisemitism by members and the rise of “hard left” elements.

Tom Barnes22 February 2019 11:09

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