Diane Abbott told Cabinet minister David Davis to “fuck off” after he congratulated her following the historic Commons vote backing Brexit, HuffPost UK has been told.
The Brexit Secretary appeared to attempt a light-hearted embrace with Abbott to praise her for supporting the Government’s bill to trigger the UK’s exit from the EU, sources claimed.
But the Shadow Home Secretary was not amused by the encounter, which took place in the Strangers’ Bar in the Commons on Wednesday night, an MP present said.
The MP said that Davis had appeared to try to “lean in” and kiss Abbott, although another source suggested the incident looked more like an “air kiss”.
Despite her fear of a “Donald Trump Brexit”, Abbott had just voted to support the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill to give Theresa May the power to start the formal Article 50 process of quitting the 27-nation bloc.
Although she faced heavy pressure from her London constituents to oppose the bill, Abbott decided to stay in the Shadow Cabinet and support Jeremy Corbyn’s call for his party to endorse the result of last year’s EU referendum.
When a delighted Davis walked into the bar, he sought to congratulate her for supporting the Government legislation, which cleared its final Commons hurdle with a thumping majority of more than 372 votes.
The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, a strong ‘Remain’ seat, had been mocked by Labour MPs for missing a key vote on the bill last week, citing a severe migraine.
HuffPost UK understands she had a key meeting with Corbyn on Wednesday afternoon to discuss her future in the Shadow Cabinet.
Abbott underlined her reluctance to back the Brexit bill as she was one of the very last MPs to walk through the voting lobbies on Wednesday night. Until the last minute, she told colleagues how torn she was over the decision.
Minutes after the final vote, Abbott was in the bar with Shadow Attorney General Baroness Chakrabarti, the former Liberty chief who worked with Davis on civil liberties issues when he was in Opposition.
But the Labour MP recoiled from Davis’s attempted embrace, issuing her expletive. Davis walked off, laughing, another source told HuffPost UK. It is unclear if Abbott was joking or was seriously displeased. A further witness said the brief encounter was ‘more like an air kiss’.
Neither Abbott’s nor Davis’s offices would comment directly about the incident, but neither denied the swear word was used. An ally of the Cabinet minister told the Evening Standard that he ‘sought to embrace’ Abbott but was “perfectly jovial”.
Strangers’ Bar is a well-used watering hole in the Commons, where MPs from all parties gather, particularly on the night of key votes.
Tory MPs were making toasts to their victory over the Brexit bill, while Labour counterparts were split between those who had backed it and those who rebelled against their party’s three-line whip ordering them to support the Government.
Labour MP Jess Phillips told the Evening Standard Davis was probably “drunk on Brexit smugness” having won the vote.
Some 52 Labour MPs defied their whip, including former Business Secretary Clive Lewis, who quit his post. A further 13 Labour frontbenchers rebelled, but they may be allowed to remain in their jobs.
Corbyn is planning a reshuffle of his top team on Thursday, with other posts due in coming days.
Abbott told the BBC’s Newsnight that “This is not a Tony Benn Brexit, this is a Donald Trump Brexit”.
But in a statement issued in the early hours, she explained she had voted out of loyalty to Corbyn and in recognition of the democratic will of the British people in the EU referendum.
“I campaigned for remain and still believe that it is not in our best interests to leave the European Union. However to say that because the vote went the wrong way we are going to ignore the votes of millions of people up and down the country, would be a blow to democracy.
“This does not mean that we have to accept Brexit in the haphazard way in which it is being handed to us. I like many are rightfully concerned about Theresa May’s Brexit. A Brexit in accordance to Tory values.”