Shadow frontbenchers could remain in post despite Article 50 rebellion, John McDonnell suggests

Posted On: 
2nd February 2017

Labour shadow ministers who rebelled against Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit are likely to keep their jobs, John McDonnell hinted this morning.

MPs learnt the result of the Article 50 vote last night

Fifteen frontbenchers were among the 47 Labour MPs who ignored a three-line whip imposed by Jeremy Corbyn and voted against triggering Brexit.

Among them were three members of the whips' office itself, Vicky Foxcroft, Jeff Smith and Thangam Debonnaire.

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Jo Stevens, Rachael Maskell and Dawn Butler have all stood down from the Shadow Cabinet over the issue, but the fate of their shadow ministerial colleagues has yet to be decided. 

This morning the Shadow Chancellor said it was a matter for Labour's Chief Whip Nick Brown to decide whether colleagues could remain in position once the Brexit bill clears its Commons stages

He stressed the atmosphere of "mutual respect" in the party towards MPs who felt they had to represent the interests of their constituents in areas which voted strongly to remain in the EU.

"The parliamentary convention will apply, which is if you're in Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet you will stand down, for other positions that will be for the Chief Whip to report," Mr McDonnell told the Today programme.

"They'll report after the legislation is through on the process from there on in. It will be after the parliamentary process in terms of the Commons."

He said Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who stepped down as shadow education minister, had exemplified the tone of the debate in the Labour party over Europe.

"What's interesting about the last 48 hours in the Labour party was the understanding and mutual respect that people had for their different positions," he said.

"I listened to Tulip Siddiq's interview earlier and I thought what a dignified interview it was, of someone who is having to wrest with the problem that she has and many of us have where there's a national decision made in a national referendum but her constituency very strongly voted against that."

"She's had to wrest with her conscience on how to come to a decision on that, we understand and we respect that and that's the atmosphere within the Labour party, one of mutual respect."


Mr McDonnell, who is one of Jeremy Corbyn's closest allies, made clear that Labour would not look to stop Article 50 going through, but would take on the Government over the upcoming negotiations with Brussels.

He predicted that it would be the Tories who would be hit by splits over Europe once that process begins, with pro-European MPs already voicing concerns about the Government's strategy.

"Let's be clear, we've said we will not obstruct the passage of Article 50 but what we're saying is this is just the first stage...We will review exactly what happens on the day of the third reading, that will be decided by the Shadow Cabinet.

"The position that we're in now is that Article 50 will go through and here's the irony: You will see the Labour party after Article 50 uniting, coming together, to really tackle and oppose the Government in their imposition of what we think will be a reckless Brexit.

"The irony of it is I think you'll see the Conservative party then splitting apart because, exactly as George Osborne said, he disagrees and a lot of others with the priorities that Theresa May has set, particularly their undermining of our economy."