Emily Thornberry indicates Labour will not block Brexit bill even if amendments fail

Her comments come as Labour braces itself for a fresh rebellion this week as MPs vote again on Article 50 – the mechanism for triggering the Brexit negotiations

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 05 February 2017 12:00 GMT
Emily Thornberry says Labour are a national party and will not frustrate will of the people

Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, has indicated Labour will not attempt to block Brexit, even if they party’s amendments do not get accepted in the Commons this week.

Her comments come as Labour braces itself for a fresh rebellion this week as MPs vote again on Article 50 – the mechanism for triggering the Brexit negotiations. Clive Lewis, the Shadow Business Secretary, has hinted he could resign from his post if Labour’s demands are not met.

It follows a vote last week, in which three members of the Shadow Cabinet resigned in order to vote against the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. Three party whips and around ten junior frontbenchers also defied the leadership but whether they will remain in their roles is yet to be decided.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Ms Thornberry said: “We have said that we will not frustrate Brexit. We have got our instructions from the British people. We are democrats and the public have voted to leave the European Union.

“There are going to be negotiations happening in the next week. There are many ways in which the Government may be able to react to this that will be positive.

“On one of the amendments we have put down they may say: ‘We’re not going to support this amendment but during a speech we can give an assurance, we can speak in back channels, we can say you will get this.’

“There will need to be back channels, private conversations. There are many conversations going on now. We are speaking to Government, we are speaking to Tory backbenchers and we are trying to get a compromise that will work.”

Ms Thornberry refused to be drawn on whether the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott – who infuriated many Labour MPs when she missed last week’s vote because she said she had migraine – would face the sack if she failed to support the bill in Wednesday’s final third reading vote.

“It is a fast-moving picture. Let’s see what happens,” she said. “The whip will be decided next week. Let’s see what happens in relation to the amendments. We have a Shadow Cabinet meeting next week. It will be for the chief whip and the leader to decide what the whip is.”

Last week John Mann, a Labour MP, called for his colleague Ms Abbott to resign and apologise for missing the historic vote. “I think we all know what’s going on here,” he said. “She bottled the vote. It’s cowardice.”

Ms Thornberry, the MP for Islington South, also repeated Labour’s call to urge the Government to guarantee the rights of EU nationals currently residing in the UK. She added that some foreign nationals had come to hear constituency surgery “in tears”.

“The government may be saying they won't deport, but I've had people coming to my surgery in tears,” she added. “I had a meeting of 200 French nationals, not from my constituency, saying they are extremely concerned about their future.

“They have fallen in love with this country, they have fallen in love with someone from this country, they are setting up businesses here, they have put their life down here. Surely as a gesture of good faith she should be sorting this out unilaterally on behalf of people who are living in my constituency now.”

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