The Shadow Chancellor has downplayed suggestions of a deep split in Labour over Brexit by soft-balling his response to his MPs’ rebellion against triggering Article 50.
John McDonnell said there was “understanding and mutual respect for the different positions” of the party’s MP – 47 of whom failed to back the party leadership’s order not to vote against Brexit.
Despite the MPs having broken a three-line whip – the strictest possible instruction – the close ally of leader Jeremy Corbyn would not immediately commit to punishment for Labour rebels outside the shadow cabinet.
“The normal Parliamentary conventions will apply: If you’re in the cabinet or shadow cabinet you will stand down. If you’re in other positions that will be for the whips,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The chief whip will report after the legislation is through on the process from there on in. It will be after the parliamentary process in terms of the Commons. I’m not going to pre-empt what the whip is going to recommend.”
Among those Labour MPs who defied their party leadership are whips Vicky Foxcroft, Thangam Debonnaire and Jeff Smith.
Mr McDonnell said that the Conservative party would not split and Labour would come together to oppose the terms of Brexit, having respected the result of the referendum.
“Let’s make it absolutely clear, we may look divided at the moment because we’ve had to wrestle with the fact we campaigned for Remain but now the referendum has been lost,” he said.
“We may look divided but when we get past Article 50 our party is will and capable now of uniting to protect our country under this leader.
“This Tory party will split apart. The nature of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics, that consensual, mutual respect politics will be the one that holds our politics together in that united fashion to protect our community.”
Mr McDonnell pointed out that the Liberal Democrats, whose leadership has been solidly against Brexit, split in the same proportion as Labour, despite having only nine MPs.
Labour campaigned for Remain, along with the vast majority of its MPs. However the party says the referendum result should be respected.
Theresa May is today expected to release more details of her Brexit plan in a so-called white paper on the issue. The details come following the MPs’ second reading vote on Article 50.
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