Labour MPs' fury at frontbench over vote to quit single market and customs union

Posted On: 
20th November 2017

Labour splits over Brexit burst into the open after the party's frontbench ordered MPs to vote against a bid to keep the UK in the single market and customs union.

John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have insisted the result of the EU referendum must be respected.
PA Images

Former Shadow Cabinet member Ian Murray tabled an amendment to a government bill which would have prevented duties being charged on imports to the UK after the country quits the EU.

Remain-backing Labour MPs, as well as some Conservatives, voted for the move in the Commons tonight.

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However, the amendment was defeated by 311-76 after Labour MPs were whipped to vote with the Government against it.

One Labour backbencher said: "Labour policy is to stay in  the customs union and single market, at least in transition, so the anti-hard Brexit MPs' views are that this is not  the time to give the Government carte blanche to impose tariffs taking us out of the customs union and single market.

"Yet we have just witnessed the spectacle this evening of the Labour frontbench whipping MPs to vote with the Tories against Ian’s amendment which would have helped in the effort to stop the Tories pursuing a hard Brexit. Even Tory MPs voted for Ian’s amendment, thus putting up a stronger opposition to their government than the official opposition.

"The SNP, Green MP, Plaid and the LibDems - the other progressive parties in the Commons - voted for Ian’s amendment, and yet the frontbench has betrayed Labour voters who thought we would stop a hard Brexit, instead going through the lobby with the Tories and the likes of Johnson, Gove, Fox and the rest. We just watched John McDonnell and Barry Gardiner literally walk through the lobby with David Davis."

Mr Murray, the MP for Edinburgh South, said: "It is disappointing that this amendment was defeated but the fight for customs union membership is far from over.

"The Government’s reckless, ideological decision to pull us out of the customs union will damage trade with the EU, our biggest economic partner, and risk chaos at our ports with lorries backing up motorways as they face reams of new red tape. And it will make a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland inevitable.

"Customs union membership is simply the best economic option for our country. Leaving it for fantasy new trade deals which cannot replicate the trade we do with Europe is no solution."

Former shadow minister Chuka Umunna, a supporter of Remain, took to Twitter to make clear his anger.