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Jeremy Corbyn suffers major Brexit rebellion as 64 Labour MPs defy whip over customs union

John Ashmore

2 min read

Jeremy Corbyn has been hit by a major rebellion over Brexit after almost a quarter of his MPs defied the party leadership and backed remaining in the customs union. 

Although they were whipped to abstain, 64 of Labour's 262 MPs opted to back Chris Leslie's amendment to the Government's flagship EU Withdrawal Bill. 

In an article for PoliticsHome ahead of last night's vote, the former frontbencher said leaving the customs union would "mess up the border" and cause "significant disruption" for businesses. 

"If we step outside the Customs Union, then hard border inspections at ports of exit and entry will create immense delays, blockages and force manufacturers to completely change their existing business models," Mr Leslie wrote. 

"There is no easy solution to this. It’s a particularly sensitive issue at the Irish border, and the fudge in wording in the Phase 1 Agreement simply kicks that can down the road.

It is another sign of the deep splits in the parliamentary Labour party over Mr Corbyn's Brexit policy.

Following the vote, Mr Leslie told PoliticsHome: “We’ve reached a point where Labour needs to be strongly and clearly pro single market and customs union and the time for politicking and legalistic obfuscation has passed.

"It was hard for 64 Labour MPs to break the whip but sometimes it’s necessary to put country ahead of party politics.”

Earlier this year some 50 MPs defied the leadership to vote in favour of staying in the single market, while in November, 19 pro-European MPs ignored an instruction to abstain from the vote on repealing the 1972 European Communities Act.

There was also confusion over the weekend when deputy leader Tom Watson refused to rule out a second EU referendum just an hour after Diane Abbott said Labour does not support the policy.

Meanwhile, PoliticsHome revealed earlier this week that senior figures at trade union Unite will lobby Mr Corbyn to change Labour policy to back continued membership of both the customs union and the single market.

They believe staying as close to the bloc as possible is the best way to protect members' jobs in the future.

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