POLITICS

Labour 'Hanging On By Its Fingernails' Against Ukip, Warns Clive Lewis

Shadow business secretary confirms he is prepared to quit frontbench

06/02/2017 12:00 GMT | Updated 06/02/2017 12:23 GMT
Matt Crossick/Matt Crossick

Clive Lewis has warned Labour is “hanging on by the fingernails” against Ukip in much of the country as he repeated his warning that he could quit the shadow cabinet in order to vote against triggering Article 50.

The shadow business secretary said if Ukip leader Paul Nuttall wins the by-election in Stoke on February 23 then there will be a “domino effect” across the north of England that could end in a “rout” of his party.

Lewis was speaking at a meeting in his Norwich South constituency on Friday evening and he posted a video of the event on his Facebook page.

The MP has been seen as a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, but he gave his constituents his “word” he would defy the Labour leader later this week and vote against the third reading of the The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill if it looked like the government was determined to pursue a “Tory, hard, cliff-edge Trumpian Brexit”.

“I am prepared to walk from the shadow cabinet and I am prepared to vote against it,” he said. “If it is a Tory Brexit I will vote against it whatever the whip is.”

Rebel Conservatives are warning they could combine with Labour and the SNP to amend the Bill unless Parliament is given a say on the “endgame” negotiations.

Last week, 47 Labour MPs ignored Corbyn’s three-line whip and chose to vote against the Bill at its second reading.

The Labour leader will have to decide whether or not to sack the frontbenchers who joined the rebels. On Sunday he hinted he would break with Westminster convention and be “lenient” on those who had opposed him and let them keep their jobs.

Tulip Siddiq, the first member of Corbyn’s team to quit over the three-line whip, was surprised by the apparent lax attitude to discipline.

She told the The Huffington Post: “It should have been a free vote. What’s the point of having a three line whip if the consequences are not enforced?”

Lewis, who is often spoken of as a future Labour leadership candidate, said the problem for his party was that while 67% of Labour voters voted ‘Remain’, 75% of its MPs are in ‘Leave’ constituencies.

“There are swathes of this country, like in Stoke, where we are hanging on by the fingernails to keep Ukip at bay,” he said. “If Ukip make a breakthrough in Stoke, if they make a breakthrough in parts of the county in the north - there will be a rout.”

“Once they have one voice they will have a base and it will be a domino effect. I do not want the politics of Trump in Westminster.”

Lewis campaigned for ‘Remain’ and his constituency also voted to stay in the EU. However he told the meeting it was wrong to brand all ‘Leave’ voters as “just a bunch of ignorant racists”.

“We are deeply deeply divided country, in terms of income, in terms of geography, in terms of culture,” he said. “I kind of the thought the issue of Europe was some crackpot thing. Oh how wrong we were.”

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which will give Theresa May the right to trigger ARticle 50 and take the UK out of the EU, returns to the Commons for three more days of debate today.

It will be a chance for MPs to amend the legislation after last week’s second reading vote on the principle of the Bill. The Government has sought to restrict the opportunities for change by limiting it to just two clauses. Speaker John Bercow will decide which of the scores of amendments MPs will have a chance to vote on.