Barry Gardiner sparks Labour rebellions over EU trade deals with Canada and Japan
Barry Gardiner has provoked a major Labour rebellion after he urged MPs not to support trades deals struck by the European Union with Japan and Canada.
The Shadow International Trade Secretary called on his backbenchers to abstain on a government motion backing the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
But following a debate in which Mr Gardiner was attacked by MPs from all parties, 14 Labour members defied their frontbench to vote in favour of it, while another four rebelled by voting against.
There were even extraordinary claims that Labour chief whip Nick Brown had "physically intimidated" those MPs defying the party whip. Those allegations were strongly denied by sources close to Mr Brown.
In a later vote on a separate trade deal between the EU and Japan, there was an even bigger rebellion when 17 Labour MPs voted for it instead of abstaining.
Calling on MPs to back CETA, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said: "Free trade is the means by which we have taken millions of people out of abject poverty in the last generation and we should not put that into reverse."
Mr Gardiner said: "A Labour government would very much welcome a trade deal with Canada, a trade deal that built on the commerical and diplomatic ties that bind our two countries. But the EU-CETA is not such an agreement
"The question is not who, the question is what. Of course we can do a deal, but it must be the right deal."
The Labour frontbencher said CETA did not provide enough protections on the environment and workers' rights, while its dispute resolution system would give Canadian and US corporations the ability to sue the British government in a private court.
But Labour MPs lined up to condemn Mr Gardiner. John Spellar said: "This agreement is much to be welcomed between our two great nations and our two great people...
"I suppose we could do a trade deal with Venezuela, but they may not cross the human rights hurdle any time soon."
Former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie said: "This is a liberal open economy with which we have great affinity. CETA is already provisionally in force so if this House were to kick it out and prevent the EU from ratifiying it, we would go from a position of enjoying zero tariffs to having tariffs on a whole basket of goods.
"We've got to look responsibly at the options the House has. To start putting question marks on non-EU trade deals doesn't seem very sensible to me."
Mr Leslie said Labour should be "very careful about slipping into an oppositionalist rut on these issues".
He added: "If we want to be a government in waiting, we have to take a responsible view about the prosperity of our economy, because from that prosperity comes the revenues we need for our public services.
"There is a danger in flirting with anti-trade populism. We have to harness globalisation, not resist it entirely. There is a sensible mainstream apporach to trade deals. The long view is that free and fair trade benefits us all."
Another Labour MP told PoliticsHome: "Maybe Barry Gardiner is some kind of prophet who has been given a divine vision of a future where all other nations die of horrible pestilence, and what looks today like a batsh*t determination to make us into a protectionist poverty state actually turns out to be toughening us up for when the wipeout comes. Or he could just be a f*****g imbecile."
The Commons voted 315-36 in favour of the canada trade deal, but only after rowdy scenes between Labour MPs in the division lobby.
One Labour MP said: "The Labour chief whip physically intimidated and was finger-jabbing Labour MPs, ordering them not to vote for the EU/Canada deal, and being ignored. Colleagues who've been here for decades say they have never been subject to such aggressive treatment."
Another said: "Nick Brown was very angry - lots of shouting and finger-pointing as we went into the aye lobby."
But a source close to Mr Brown said: "This is nonsense. Whips always stand in the lobbies for any division to give information to colleagues on how we are voting."
Among the Labour backbenchers who backed CETA were Owen smith, Adrian Bailey, Stephen Kinnock, Luciana Berger and Ian Austin.
Meanwhile, a total of 317 MPs voted in favour of the EU's trade deal with Japan, with only one voting against it.
Among the Labour rebels were Ben Brandshaw, Mike Gapes, Mary Creagh and Roger Godsiff.