Labour frontbencher keeps job after defying whip on second Brexit referendum

Posted On: 
1st May 2018

A Labour frontbencher who defied Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit has been spared the sack, it has emerged.

Lord Hunt was among some 51 Labour peers who defied their party’s order to abstain and backed the plans
PA Images

Shadow health minister Lord Hunt backed an amendment in the Lords last night which proposed holding a second referendum on EU membership.

The tweak to the EU Withdrawal Bill would have given voters the chance to either rubber stamp the final Brexit deal or reverse the UK’s exit from the EU.

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Lord Hunt was hauled in front of the shadow chief whip Lord McAvoy and Labour Lords leader Baroness Smith for a discussion on the matter this morning.

But a Labour source told PoliticsHome: “A full and frank discussion has been had. He remains on the frontbench.”

The proposals, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, were rejected 202-260 by the Lords.

Lord Hunt was among some 51 Labour peers who defied their party’s order to abstain and backed the plans.

The party has recently taken a hard line over its Brexit stance, with Owen Smith being removed from his post as shadow Northern Ireland Secretary in March after voicing his support for a fresh Brexit vote.

Tory Brexit Minister Steve Baker said: “If Labour want to be taken seriously as a party which respects the decision the people took in the referendum, they must remove Lord Hunt from their front bench.

“All their behaviour to this date has shown a determination to disrupt a successful Brexit, but failure to act now would demonstrate a contempt for those who voted for it.”

Elsewhere, peers inflicted further defeats on the Government yesterday as the landmark Brexit legislation continued its passage through the Upper Chamber – taking the total up to nine.

In a major blow, the Lords voted 335 to 244 in favour of an amendment which would hand parliament the power to decide what happens next if MPs reject the deal she strikes with the EU.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer hailed the result as “a hugely significant moment in the fight to ensure Parliament has a proper role in the Brexit negotiations and that we avoid a no deal situation.”

Supporters of the plan will hope that the size of the majority - 91 - will encourage enough pro-EU Tory MPs to rebel when the legislation returns to the House of Commons.