Fresh Labour rebellion looms as MPs set to be ordered to vote FOR Article 50
Jeremy Corbyn is braced for a further rebellion by his MPs after it emerged they are set to be told to back the triggering Article 50.
The Shadow Cabinet will meet tomorrow morning to agree Labour's whipping arrangements for Wednesday's night crunch vote on the Government's EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
But in a clear hint that the party's MPs will be ordered to support kick-starting the two-year Brexit process - as they were last week - Labour chief whip Nick Brown tonight told them he was in favour of "consistency".
Mr Brown spoke out at a heated meeting of the parliamentary Labour, which also saw Diane Abbott come in for severe criticism from several MPs for missing last week's vote after going home sick.
One MP said the Shadow Home Secretary's position was "untenable" as it was confirmed she had not got the whips' permission to miss the vote, which saw 47 Labour MPs defy Mr Corbyn by opposing the bill.
Asked about the whipping arrangements for Wednesday's vote, Mr Brown said: "No decision has yet been made on our position, but I'm an advocate of consistency."
In what was seen as a clear reference to Ms Abbott - a close ally of Mr Corbyn - the chief whip also insisted that there would be no "favouritism" for Shadow Cabinet members who fail to follow the whip.
Among the MPs who criticised Ms Abbott's absence from last week's vote were Chris Bryant, Jess Phillips, Clive Betts, Emma Reynolds and Clive Efford.
One MP who was present at the meeting told PoliticsHome: "Nick confirmed that Diane had not asked their permission to go home and missed the vote. He also made clear that if you are too ill to go through the voting lobbies, you can sit in your office and be nodded through, meaning your vote is still recorded.
"He made it clear that the rules have to applied to everyone and that there can be no favouritism. The impression we got was that Nick was saying Diane would have to go."
It was claimed tonight that Ms Abbott, along with Shadow Cabinet colleague Barry Gardiner, were pushing for Labour to abstain in Wednesday's vote.
But one backbencher said: "We would look utterly ridiculous if we did that, and there would be a massive rebellion by those from constituencies which voted heavily to leave the EU and who support triggering Article 50. Nick Brown was warned it would be seen as a flip-flop and would result in Ukip winning lots of Labour seats."
Meanwhile, the meeting also heard that the by-election contests in Stoke and Copeland are "incredibly tight", but that the party is growing increasingly confident of holding both seats.
A spokesman said: "In Copeland, we're winning the battle on the NHS, and in Stoke there is a feeling that we're beginning to gain traction. There's a recognition that we've got a fight on our hands. Ukip's leader is standing in Stoke and he is a high profile figure, We're campaigning hard and we do sense it's coming back to us."