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Jeremy Corbyn hit by Labour rebellion as MPs back Brexit bill

3 min read

Labour MPs rebelled against Jeremy Corbyn as the Commons gave its backing to the Government's flagship Brexit bill.

Parliament voted 326 to 290 shortly after midnight to support the EU (Withdrawal) Bill at second reading, meaning it will now proceed to line-by-line scrutiny at committee stage.

Seven Labour members voted for the draft law - Ronnie Campbell, Kate Hoey, Dennis Skinner, John Mann, Frank Field, Kelvin Hopkins and Graham Stringer - with eight more abstaining.

By contrast, it appeared as though every Conservative and DUP MP supported the Government, despite warnings from many Tories that the bill will need to be amended before it becomes law.

The result was a major snub for Mr Corbyn, who had ordered his MPs to vote against the legislation, which seeks to transfer European laws onto the UK statute book when Britain quits the EU.

The Labour leader had claimed that so-called "Henry VIII clauses" contained in the bill give ministers sweeping powers to change the law without the approval of parliament.

But during a marathon Commons debate, some of his MPs claimed that by failing to vote for the bill, Labour was betraying the result of last year's EU referendum.

Former minister Caroline Flint, the MP for Don Valley, said: "I believe Labour's job is to improve the bill by amending it, not killing the bill at the beginning of its passage through parliament. 

"Whatever side of the debate you fall on, if you honestly accept the result as the will of the British people, you are honour-bound to see it through to make the best of it."

Birkenhead MP Frank Field said: "I will be voting for the only option for the referendum result to be implemented - that was the wish of my constituents and that was the will of the country. I'm on the side of the majority of people who voted to come out."

Some Conservative MPs said they would vote for the bill, but insisted it must be amended before finally being passed.

Bromley and Chislehurst MP Bob Neil, a former Tory minister, said: "Although I will support it at second reading, I do so on the basis that this bill needs a number of areas."

Prime Minister Theresa May said parliament had taken "a historic decision to back the will of the British people and vote for a bill which gives certainty and clarity ahead of our withdrawal from the European Union".

She added: "Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation."

But Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: "This is a deeply disappointing result. This bill is an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab by Government Ministers. It leaves rights unprotected, it silences Parliament on key decisions and undermines the devolution settlement.

"It will make the Brexit process more uncertain, and lead to division and chaos when we need unity and clarity. Labour will seek to amend and remove the worst aspects from the Bill as it passes through Parliament. But the flaws are so fundamental it’s hard to see how this bill could ever be made fit for purpose."

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