05/02/2017 10:11 GMT | Updated 05/02/2017 10:31 GMT

Emily Thornberry: I Haven't Spoken To Diane Abbott Since She Abstained On Brexit Bill

Labour will try to persuade the Government on Brexit through 'back-channels'


Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary today revealed she hasn’t spoken to Diane Abbott since her frontbench colleague abstained on a key Brexit vote.

On Wednesday, Labour MPs were ordered to vote with the Government and support giving Theresa May the power to trigger the formal Brexit procedure.

Some 47 Labour MPs defied the instruction, and two members of Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet even quit their posts in order to vote against the Brexit bill.

However, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott abstained, claiming she was ill, despite giving a speech in a Westminster Hall debate just hours before.

Her absence provoked anger among some Labour colleagues, with one MP trying to get #prayfordiane trending on Twitter.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, Emily Thornberry was asked if she had spoken to Abbott since the vote.

“No I haven’t, no,” was her curt reply.

When pressed on why Abbott skipped the vote but two Labour MPs suffering from cancer managed to drag themselves through the voting lobbies, Thornberry replied: “I don’t know the details of this. All I’m told is, she was ill. That’s all I know.

“There’s nothing else I can say.” 

Speaking on Peston on Sunday on ITV less than an hour later, Labour MP Caroline Flint said Abbott should quit if she is unable to support the party leader.

“We used to have man-flu, now we have Brexit flu,” she joked.

Labour’s split on Brexit will be exposed again this week, with the Commons set to hold another vote on the Article 50 Bill on Wednesday.

Thornberry confirmed Labour would later this week decide whether to back the Bill regardless of whether amendments on EU citizens, workers rights, and tariff free access to the Single Market were adopted by the Government.

She claimed that the party is seeking private assurances from the Tories over these issues, and said: “There are many ways in which the government may be able to react to this that will be positive.

“So, for example, on one of the amendments we put down they may say: ‘We’re not going to support this amendment but during a speech we can give an assurance, we can speak in back-channels, we can say we will get this, we will not go off the rails in relation to workers rights’.

“I think its much better for them to be saying it on the record and to be saying it so we know what it is they are committing themselves to so we can hold them to account.

“But there needs to be backchannels, private conversations - there are many conversations going on now. We are speaking to government, we are speaking to tory backbenchers and we are trying to get a compromise together that will work.”