Jeremy Corbyn is “confident” that key Shadow Cabinet ministers Diane Abbott and Clive Lewis will not quit his top team over Brexit, his allies have claimed.
Ahead of a crunch vote in the House of Commons, a senior party source said that the Labour leader expected his senior frontbenchers to back the Government’s bill to trigger the process of quitting the EU.
Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott have sparked speculation over the past week that they could rebel against the party’s whip on the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
But the Shadow Cabinet agreed on Tuesday that it would force all Labour MPs to vote for the legislation, which gives Theresa May the power to finally start the formal two-year Brexit process.
Both Lewis and Abbott have come under strong pressure to defy the three-line whip, with many voters in their local constituencies wanting them to oppose the Government’s bill.
A senior Labour source said that Corbyn did not believe that either of them would rebel against the party line, a move that would force them to resign or be sacked.
“We are confident that the members of the Shadow Cabinet will support the call from the Shadow Cabinet itself to follow the three-line whip on Third Reading,” the source said.
“Every member of the Shadow Cabinet is expected to support Labour’s position and that’s the basis of collective responsibility. We expect all members of the Shadow Cabinet to support the whip.”
Abbott was criticised by Labour MPs for being absent from a vote on the bill last week, citing a severe migraine as her reason for not turning up. “She’s now better,” the Labour source said.
When pressed if Corbyn had had further discussions with Lewis, the source said: “There is constant contact and discussions with all members of the shadow Cabinet.”
Three Shadow Cabinet ministers have already resigned and 13 frontbenchers in total defied the party line last week by opposing the Brexit bill.
A fifth of Labour MPs voted against the bill and more were expected to object to its formal Third Reading, the final stage of the legislation in the Commons before it goes to the House of Lords.
Once the bill clears Parliament next month, the Prime Minister has said she will ‘by the end of March’ formally trigger the two-year Brexit talks with 27 EU nations.
Asked on Wednesday morning if this was his last day in the Shadow Cabinet, Lewis replied: “I’ve got to make a decision on how I vote, haven’t I? I’m going to make my mind up. We will see what happens in the [voting] lobbies.”
He added: “It’s my intention to do what’s right by my constituents and my conscience. It’s a really tough call.”
A staunch member of the campaign to Remain in the EU in the referendum last year, Lewis has a tight majority in his Norwich South constituency.
At the weekend, Lewis had said: “If at the end of that process the bill before us is still an overwhelmingly Tory, hard, cliff-edge Trumpian Brexit then I am prepared to break the whip and I am prepared to walk from the shadow cabinet.”
Having given such strong hints that he would quit, one shadow minister said that if he “bottled it”, Lewis would be remembered for “doing a Clare Short”, a reference to Tony Blair’s International Development Secretary, who failed to quit over the Iraq war.
There was speculation that Lewis could try to abstain from the vote, in the hope that Corbyn would spare him the sack by not actively voting against the bill.
Corbyn is already facing his third reshuffle in 15 months as he will have to fill vacancies left by former Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens, Shadow Environment Secretary Rachael Maskell and Shadow Diverse Communities Minister Dawn Butler last week.
Labour sources said that the Labour leader would sort the replacements over “coming days” rather than straight after the Wednesday night vote.