Brexit: Quarter of Labour MPs defy Jeremy Corbyn and vote that UK should remain in EU customs union

Significant rebellion on Withdrawal Bill highlights divisions in Labour Party over Brexit

Benjamin Kentish
Thursday 21 December 2017 02:00
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Bill to stay in EU customs union fails despite support of 60 rebel Labour MPs

Almost a quarter of Labour MPs have defied Jeremy Corbyn and voted to keep the UK in the customs union after Brexit.

The Labour leader had instructed MPs to abstain on the issue, but 63 MPs rebelled and voted for an amendment, tabled by Labour’s Chris Leslie, that would have seen the UK retain its customs union membership.

Three Brexit-supporting Labour MPs – Frank Field, Dennis Skinner and Kate Hoey – also defied the party whip and sided with the Conservatives to vote against the amendment.

Proposing his amendment, Mr Leslie said: “New clause 13 would keep open the option for the United Kingdom to stay in the customs union – something that I hope particularly my honourable friends will support.

“We have to avoid that hard border, particularly between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We don’t want our many industries to be turned upside down with all the jobs, and potentially Brexit austerity hitting our constituents for years to come.

“I don’t want that on my conscience. We have to act now.”

While the amendment was voted down by 320 votes to 114, Labour whips are likely to be concerned that they were unable to convince so many of their MPs to toe the party line.

Among those to rebel were a number of former Shadow Cabinet ministers, including Chuka Umunna, Pat McFadden and Mary Creagh.

The Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green Party all backed the amendment, as did two Conservative rebels: Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry.

It came after the Government was forced to accept an amendment that would give Parliament the right to alter the date on which the UK will leave the EU.

Fearing a second defeat at the hands of Tory rebels, ministers backed down and agreed that the date should be enshrined in law as 29 March, but that MPs could delay it if more time is required for negotiations.

In a series of late-night votes, MPs rejected a cross-party amendment that would have legislated for a transition period lasting at least two years, and another that would have forced the Government to commission an independent assessment on the impact of Brexit on the NHS and social care.

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