Diane Abbott has defended her decision to vote in favour of triggering Article 50, claiming that to try and block Brexit would have been a “blow to democracy”.
The shadow home secretary chose to obey Jeremy Corbyn’s order to vote in favour of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill on Wednesday evening - having missed an earlier vote on the legislation.
In a statement this morning, Abbott said she backed Brexit “as a loyal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and a loyal member of the Shadow Cabinet”.
The Bill received its third reading in the Commons by a vote of 494 to 122, a government majority of 372.
Corbyn had imposed a three-line whip on his MPs to vote for the Bill. However 52 rebelled and voted against. The list included 13 members of the Labour leader’s shadow frontbench, including three party whips.
Clive Lewis resigned as shadow business secretary after voting against Corbyn’s orders.
The Labour leader will now have to reshuffle his top team to take account of those who defied the whip.
There had been much speculation that Abbott would try to avoid voting in favour of Brexit. She angered many Labour MPs by missing the second reading vote after going home ill. However in the event she sided with Corbyn last night.
“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,” she said.
“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.
“I was in Parliament for the Maastricht Treaty, which was just a revision to the EU Treaty. We debated it for forty-two days. MPs have been given just five days to debate coming out of the EU all together. This demonstrates how arrogant Theresa May is, how much she does not want to involve Parliament, and how much she wants to bulldoze things through.
“This passage of this Bill has been a challenge for Labour. Our MPs represent the top six most passionately pro-leave constituencies, and the six most passionately pro-remain constituencies.
“Following the decision taken by the Shadow Cabinet on voting for the Article 50 Bill, I voted for the Bill as a loyal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and a loyal member of the Shadow Cabinet.
“Labour will continue to oppose Theresa May’s intention to carry out a ‘Hard Brexit’. We will continue to fight for jobs and living standards, to protect workers’ rights and environmental standards and the rights of EU citizens, which are all under threat.”
Following the vote, victorious Conservative Brexit secretary David Davis is said to have offered to give Abbott a kiss in a Commons bar. She recoiled and told him to “fuck off”.
Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Abbott attacked the prime minsiter’s plan to leave the EU as too right-wing. “This is not a Tony Benn Brexit, this is a Donald Trump Brexit,” she said.
Lewis’ resignation brings to four the total of shadow cabinet ministers who have quit over Brexit following Jo Stevens, Rachael Maskell and Dawn Butler last week, who have not yet been replaced.
Corbyn is facing a backlash after he tweeted “real fight starts now” after the vote - with many ‘Remain’ supporters arguing he should have done to fight for EU membership during the campaign.
Speaking to the BBC this morning, the Labour leader said it was “not a disaster” that Lewis, an ally, had quit.
“The majority of Labour MPs voted to trigger Article 50. Fifty-odd voted against it, mainly on the basis of their strong message from their own constituents,” he said.
“My argument is it was a national vote, it was a national referendum, and Parliament has to respect that.”
When passed after it goes through the House of Lords, the Brexit Bill will give Theresa May the authority to trigger Article 50 and begin the negotiations with Brussels.