Jeremy Corbyn is facing the prospect of fresh Shadow Cabinet resignations after the party agreed to order all Labour MPs to back the Government’s Brexit bill.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis are set to be sacked or forced to quit if they now vote in line with their constituents’ wishes against the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
Party sources told HuffPost UK that the Shadow Cabinet agreed on Tuesday to enforce a three-line whip on the bill, which requires all MPs to turn up and back the move to trigger the two-year Article 50 process of quitting the EU.
Three senior frontbenchers resigned last week as they joined 47 Labour MPs in voting against the plans.
But Abbott was absent, citing a severe migraine. Fellow Labour MP John Mann pointed out last week that two other MPs with cancer had managed to attend the crunch vote.
On Tuesday, Tory MP and former minister Nick Boles, who is being treated for a cancerous brain tumour, posted on Facebook a photo of himself coming out of hospital in order to vote for the Brexit bill.
Boles was too unwell to vote last week, but said he was determined to turn up for the final stages of the bill.
Abbott is under huge pressure from voters in her Hackney constituency, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, to oppose the Government’s legislation.
Yet as one of Corbyn’s key allies in his top team, some colleagues say she is very reluctant to give up her “dream job” of shadowing the Home Office.
Lewis has already warned that he will vote on the Third Reading of the Brexit bill in line with his Norwich constituents’ wishes and his “conscience”.
Abbott came under attack on Monday at the weekly meeting of Labour’s Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), with backbenchers insisting that she should not be treated differently from others in Corbyn’s team.
Some Corbyn allies had wanted a free vote to spare both Abbott and Lewis having to make a stark choice between keeping their jobs and voting to represent their local areas’ strong anti-Brexit views.
At the Shadow Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Abbott did not speak, although 20 other fellow frontbenchers did.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who has defied her local constituents to vow to back Article 50, told colleagues that “some around the table had not helped the Labour position” last week.
But Shadow Attorney General Baroness Chakrabarti hit out at leaks that Abbott and fellow frontbencher Barry Gardiner had wanted a free vote to allow them to abstain, PoliticsHome.com reported.
The Liberal Democrats sought to exploit the Labour splits, urging pro-Remain MPs to defy the party.
Senior Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael said: “Jeremy Corbyn has finally given up. This is going to cause a big headache for many Labour MPs and not just for Diane Abbott.
“For years, as he defied three line whip after three-line whip, Jeremy Corbyn used to say that it was important for MPs to do what they believed to be right rather than to do what they were told.
“That has never been more true than it is today. Labour MPs should follow his example rather than his instructions.”