Two more Labour frontbenchers have quit Jeremy Corbyn’s top team after he ordered them to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.
Shadow environment secretary Rachael Maskell and shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler both resigned as the Commons prepared to vote on a Bill giving Theresa May the right to start the Brexit process.
Writing on her website, Maskell said: “The UK is no longer being offered a ‘people’s Brexit’ but a ‘Theresa May Brexit’, which goes far beyond just leaving the European Union, as voted on at the referendum last June.”
Corbyn has imposed a three line whip on his MPs for the vote on the Brexit Bill - meaning any members of his frontbench team either have to resign or risk being fired if they choose to defy him.
Both pro-Remain and pro-Brexit Conservative MPs, with the exception of Ken Clarke, have united behind triggering Article 50. However Corbyn has struggled to convince Labour MPs to obey his orders to back the Bill.
Brexit has caused a deep split in the Labour Party. The overwhelming majority of its MPs backed Remain but most Labour constituencies voted to Leave.
In a statement, the Labour leader said: “I would like to thank Dawn and Rachael for their work in the shadow cabinet. They are great assets to the Labour Party and to our movement.
“MPs have a duty to represent their constituents as well as their party, and I understand the difficulties that MPs for constituencies which voted Remain have in relation to the European Union withdrawal Bill.
“However, it is right that the Labour Party respects the outcome of the referendum on leaving the European Union. We have said all along that Labour will not frustrate the triggering of Article 50 and to that end we are asking all MPs to vote for the Bill at its second reading tonight.”
Several leading Labour MPs who campaigned against Brexit, including Corbyn, shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer and Ed Miliband, said it would be undemocratic to ignore the national referendum result.
But speaking during the debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill today, many explained why they were not convinced.
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq, who resigned her frontbench job last week to vote against the party whip, told the Commons she would be “abandoning” her Remain voting constituency if she backed Article 50.
Several other Labour frontbenchers including party whips face the sack after confirming they would rebel against Corbyn to vote against the Bill.
Former shadow cabinet minister Chris Bryant said he would be voting against Article 50 even though the majority of his constituents backed Leave. Lewisham West MP Jim Dowd said he could “not be complicit in something I know and feel is wrong” while Bermondsey & Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle was told off by the Speaker for branding the Conservatives “a whole government full of bastards”.