Labour MPs who defied the party line to vote against Brexit could be spared the axe from their frontbench jobs, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s key allies has suggested.
Shadow Treasury Chief Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said that the party would “take an empathetic approach” to dealing with those who failed to back the Government’s bill triggering the UK’s exit from the EU.
Some 13 shadow ministers ignored the three-line whip ordering them to vote for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill on Wednesday night.
Under normal procedures, all of them would be sacked or asked to resign, but Corbyn has decided to wait instead until the legislation clears the Commons next week, when further votes are due.
Speaking on the BBC’s Question Time programme on Thursday, Long-Bailey made clear that disciplinary action was not necessarily going to be taken.
“In terms of looking for new jobs. People made an agonising choice, they had to vote with their hearts. They had to vote in many cases in line with what their constituency wanted them to do. But the party position was to uphold the democratic will of the people,” she said.
“Now we will take an empathetic approach and an understable approach to the MPs that have voted against the party whip because they were put in difficult positions.
“But there’s a lot of discussion going to take place over the next few weeks.”
Corbyn has said that it would be “impossible” for Shadow Cabinet members to stay in their jobs, but has left open the fate of more junior frontbenchers.
Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis could quit if the Government fails to accept amendments to give MPs more of a say over the Brexit process. The Mirror reported that Ed Miliband could be offered Lewis’s job if he quit.
Three of the party’s own whips defied their own whipping instruction this week to vote against the triggering of the formal Article 50 process of Brexit.
Jeff Smith, Thangam Debbonaire and Vicky Foxcroft were joined by 10 other shadow ministers, all of whom represent constituencies which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum.
HuffPost UK reported last week that shadow Home Office minister Rupa Huq had told her local party she had informed the whips that she intended to vote against the Brexit trigger bill.
Shadow Chief Whip Nick Brown had asked her not to resign, she claimed.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell confirmed on Thursday that no disciplinary action would be taken until after the bill clears all its Commons stages next week.
He repeated Corbyn’s line that Shadow Cabinet ministers had a special duty to follow the party whip, as they had agreed the disciplinary approach at their meeting this week. But he said more junior shadow ministers would have to wait for the Shadow Chief Whip to report back.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, who represents a strongly pro-Remain constituency, came under attack from backbencher John Mann for failing to turn up to the crunch vote. Her office says she had a severe migraine, but Mann pointed out two Labour MPs with cancer had still made the vote.
The Labour leader is already facing his third reshuffle in 15 months because of the resignations of Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens, Shadow Environment Secretary Rachael Maskell and Shadow Minister for Diverse Communities.