Clive Lewis has resigned from Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet after refusing to vote for Brexit.
The Shadow Business Secretary had said he would rebel against Corbyn’s three-line whip order that all Labour MPs vote in favour of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in the Commons.
He made the decision ahead of the vote, which the Government won easily, and said:
“When I became the MP for Norwich South, I promised my constituents I would be ‘Norwich’s voice in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in Norwich’. I therefore cannot, in all good conscience, vote for something I believe will ultimately harm the city I have the honour to represent, love and call home.
“It is therefore with a heavy heart that I have decided to resign from the shadow cabinet.
“It has been a privilege to work with Jeremy Corbyn and be part of the shadow cabinet. I will continue to support our party and our leader from the back benches to the very best of my ability.”
MPs voted in favour of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in the Commons at third reading by 494 to 122, a government majority of 372.
When passed after it goes through the House of Lords, the legislation will give Theresa May the authority to trigger Article 50 and begin the Brexit negotiations with Brussels.
Labour MPs, the majority of whom campaigned for a Remain vote in the referendum, have agonised over the Brexit votes in parliament.
The list included 13 members of the Labour leader’s shadow frontbench, including three party whips.
Corbyn said of Lewis’s resignation:
“I would like to thank Clive for his work in the shadow cabinet, which has underlined what an asset he is to the Labour Party and our movement.
“I understand the difficulties MPs representing constituencies which voted Remain have in relation to the European Union Withdrawal Bill. MPs have a duty to represent their constituents as well as their party.
“However, the Labour Party respects the outcome of the EU referendum, so we have asked all Labour MPs to vote for the Bill at its third reading tonight.
“We have been clear from the start that Labour will not frustrate the triggering of Article 50, which represents the start of the process for leaving the EU.
“Labour will use every opportunity to hold the government to account and protect jobs, rights and living standards at every stage of the negotiations.
“I wish Clive well and look forward to working with him in the future.”
When passed, the legislation will give Theresa May the authority to trigger Article 50 and begin the Brexit negotiations with Brussels.
Lewis, who is tipped as a future leadership candidate, has been a close ally of Corbyn on the left of the party. However cracks in the relationship emerged at Labour’s conference in September over a difference of opinion on Trident.
His resignation does not come as a surprise. Lewis told a meeting in his constituency on Friday evening he would walk if he believed voting for the Bill would lead to a “Tory, hard, cliff-edge Trumpian Brexit”.
The Norwich South MP, who was first elected in 2015, gave his Remain-voting constituency his “word” he would vote against Brexit today if Labour amendments to the Bill were not accepted.
But it is still a blow for Corbyn who has already been forced to prepare a reshuffle of his top team after several shadow ministers and whips defied his order last week to vote for the Bill at its earlier second reading stage. By convention, frontbenchers who break the party whip either quit or are fired. Some have already resigned.
Labour MPs, the majority of whom campaigned for a Remain vote in the referendum, have agonised over the Brexit votes in parliament. Most of the 47 MPs who voted against Brexit last week represent constituencies that voted Remain in June. However nine staunchly pro-EU MPs voted against triggering Article 50 even though their constituents backed Brexit.
Lewis’ resignation came as Corbyn’s allies were forced to deny Westminster rumours he was preparing to quit himself. Speculation about the Labour leader’s future was triggered after it was reported he had given a “departure date” to his inner circle of advisers.
But Ian Lavery, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, told The Huffington Post UK the rumours were untrue. “There’s not a grain of truth to the rumours about Jeremy stepping down,” he said. “Lots of gossip happens around this place, but we know from previous rumours that it’s not always reliable.”