Jeremy Corbyn has risked more resignations from his frontbench after deciding to impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs to support the triggering of Article 50.
After days of speculation, the Labour leader revealed on Thursday afternoon will order his MPs to back the start of the Brexit process. Shadow ministers would be expected to resign or be fired if they defy the whip.
The Guardian has reported shadow business secretary Clive Lewis, an ally of Corbyn, has threatened to rebel. Frontbenchers Tulip Saddiq, Jo Stevens, Dawn Butler and Catherine West have all indicated they will vote against Article 50.
Speaking to Sky News, Corbyn said: “It will be a clear decision that we want all of our MPs to support the Article 50 vote when it comes up next week. It’s clearly a three-line whip.
“I’m asking all of our MPs not to block article 50 but to make sure it goes through next week.”
Backbencher Ben Bradshaw told BBC Daily Politics it was a “great pity” that Corbyn had decided to impose a three-line whip. “I can’t support that. I don’t know why we’re doing that. We’re supposed to be an opposition. An opposition’s job is to oppose and to scrutinise,” he said.
Corbyn’s decision came as the government published its European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - which if passed will give Theresa May the power to trigger Article 50.
The prime minister hopes to begin the formal exit process before the end of March.
The legislation will face attempts to amend it from all sides, while some MPs and peers will just oppose it outright - although the Government is confident that it can get the legislation through Parliament.
Members in both Houses will be acutely aware that appearing to frustrate the progress of the Bill would risk accusations that they are going against the will of the people expressed in last year’s referendum.
But the Liberal Democrats have vowed to oppose Article 50 unless there is a guarantee of a fresh public vote on the final Brexit deal agreed with Brussels, and the SNP has vowed to table 50 amendments to the legislation.
There will also be pressure on ministers to produce the promised White Paper on Brexit - announced by May at Prime Minister’s Questions - before the crucial votes on triggering Article 50.
Labour is likely to table amendments to the Article 50 Bill on protecting workers’ rights and the environment, as well as ensuring the Government is subjected to scrutiny during negotiations.
And it is expected to try to amend the Bill to require a “meaningful” vote at the end of the process.