02/02/2017 10:48 GMT | Updated 02/02/2017 10:49 GMT

Labour Frontbench Brexit Rebels May Not Get Fired, Says John McDonnell

PA/PA Wire

Labour frontbenchers who ignored Jeremy Corbyn’s orders to vote in favour of Article 50 may not get sacked, John McDonnell has suggested.

Yesterday, The Labour leader saw 47 of his MPs (full list here) rebel against a three-line whip and vote against the Brexit Bill - while 167 backed him. The rebels included ten shadow ministers and three whips.

It is normal Westminster convention that shadow ministers or whips who vote against the party whip either resign their position or are immediately sacked.

However speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, McDonnell suggested the rebels would be allowed to keep their jobs.

“I’m saying is that if you are in the shadow cabinet or cabinet, the normal conventions will apply, you will be expected to resign,” he said.

“But for other positions, the normal process is that the chief whip will then report, and they will report after the legislation is through, on the process from there on in.”

Shadow cabinet ministers Jo Stevens and Rachael Maskell both quit their posts ahead of the vote last night and voted against allowing Theresa May to trigger Article 50.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, a close ally of Corbyn, who missed the vote after being taken ill and leaving Parliament two hours before the vote at around 5pm. 

Asked about Abbott’s absence, McDonnell said she would have been asked to vote if it was expected to be close. The Bill passed the first hurdle in the Commons by a vote of 498 to 114.

“She wasn’t very well. There wasn’t going to be a close vote. If there was a close vote we would be bringing even sick people back. But she wasn’t very well. She wasn’t in attendance. We’ve all been down with various bugs over the last few weeks,” he said.

MPs will spend Thursday poring over a Government White Paper setting out its Brexit strategy as the next battlegrounds in the debate over quitting the EU begin to emerge.

They will also be studying a vast list of amendments from MPs of all sides to legislation.

Hundreds of amendments have already been tabled for debate and votes between Monday and Wednesday and the objectives set out in the White Paper are sure to inspire more.

Downing Street said the White Paper would “reflect the Government’s plan for Brexit as the PM set out in her speech on our negotiating objectives”.

On Wednesday only one Tory MP, former chancellor Ken Clarke, voted against the Bill to allow the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50.

May will be conscious that splits within her own party could emerge next week, with Tory MPs said to be ready to back attempts to secure EU nationals’ rights if they are already in the UK.

Labour amendments to guarantee EU nationals’ rights, to secure a “meaningful” parliamentary vote on the final deal, to lock-in single market access, and to make ministers report back to Parliament during the negotiation could also find cross-party support.