It is “simply unacceptable” for Labour MPs to try to block Brexit in a crucial Commons vote today, one of the masterminds of the party’s Stoke by-election campaign has warned.
Labour MP Ruth Smeeth gave notice to colleagues after pounding the streets of Stoke-on-Trent Central – where a by-election is set for February 23 – in an interview with Huff Post UK.
Smeeth, who has represented the neighbouring constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North since 2015, is tasked with helping to hold on to the seat for Labour following Tristram Hunt’s resignation last month.
Ukip are piling practically all its resources into the constituency, which is believed to be one of the most pro-Brexit areas of the country after 70 per cent voted Leave in last years EU Referendum.
After spending time on the doorstep talking to voters, Smeeth is clear that people do not want any delay in the UK leaving the EU.
Referring to Labour MPs who plan to defy party orders today and vote against giving the Prime Minister the power to trigger the leaving process, Smeeth told Huff Post UK: “I say it with all respect to my colleagues, and I understand what they are doing and why they are doing it, but I think they’re wrong.
“British people spoke with a loud voice, and in many areas, like the one I represent, they were very, very clear on what they want to happen and happen as quickly as possible.”
She added: “In terms of trying to delay or stop Brexit it’s simply unacceptable and it’s not happening. As much as I totally respect my colleagues, they’re wrong.”
Labour’s candidate in the seat, local councillor Gareth Snell, campaigned for remain in the EU Referendum.
After he was selected for the by-election, a series of tweets emerged criticising the referendum result, including one saying: “Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit, massive pile of shit. Sloppy Brexit, messy Brexit, quit, quit, quit.”
Smeeth insists the comments on Brexit will not cause him damage at the ballot box, saying the candidate would back the Article 50 Bill if he was an MP today.
“Stoke spoke louder and clearer than anywhere else in the country about where it wants the country to go. Gareth is the only candidate standing who is not refighting the battles of last year but is focused on making Brexit work for the Potteries,” she said.
Labour finished a surprising fourth in the last by-election it contested, Sleaford and North Hykeham in December.
Vernon Coaker, who was responsible for the party’s campaign in the seat, warned the party that its core messages were not getting a hearing with the public as the debate was still very much on Brexit.
Smeeth said there is a “real, genuine conversation” taking place on doorsteps and campaigning events about the EU Referendum result, but also on the state of the NHS.
She said: “There’s definitely an undertone of Brexit and every leaflet every party has put out has mentioned the referendum, but we are the only ones talking about a plan for what’s next.
“From my perspective it’s about how you make the conversation not just about all the things that are traditionally Labour values but all the things that matter to people in the constituency.”
The biggest threat to Labour is set to come from Ukip, with Paul Nuttall making it his first electoral test since becoming leader last November.
There have been reports that the Conservatives are planning to run a scaled back operation in the campaign to give Ukip the best chance of overturning Labour’s 5,179 majority.
Nuttall has been clear that he wants Ukip to replace Labour as the voice of working class communities in the Midlands and the North, but Smeeth doesn’t buy into his rhetoric.
She said: “This isn’t a man that cares about the future of my city, this isn’t a man that’s going to fight for the city. This is someone on their fifth attempt in five different seats desperate to get elected because he’s about to get made redundant from the European Union.
“This is him using and abusing our city as a stepping-stone for his own political career and he doesn’t care about the people here, he doesn’t care what happens next.
“For me, people will see through that that he’s got no real connection or passion for the Potteries, whereas Gareth lives here with his wife and daughter.
“Whatever happens this is Gareth’s home and he’ll be fighting for Stoke on Trent as their MP and also as a local resident and that is something that Paul Nuttall just simply can’t bring.”
The campaign is set to hot up next week when former Ukip leader Nigel Farage holds a rally in the constituency.
Smeeth believes Farage will bring only “hate and division” to her city, and branded him an “irrelevance.”
“Who is he?” she said. “He’s someone who wants to spend time with Donald Trump, which, given his actions over the past few days, if that’s the politics that Ukip and Nuttall and Farage want to bring to my city then they are not welcome here, and we’re just going to get on and do the job of work that needs to be done.
“The idea that someone like Farage is going to come here and import the hate and division that his friend Donald Trump is using on the other side of the Atlantic is simply unacceptable to me.
“We’ll be doing a proper job of work with our constituents speaking to them, not speaking at them which is obviously what Farage is going to do next week.”