POLITICS
26/07/2018 13:00 BST | Updated 27/07/2018 09:03 BST

Labour Members Move To Suspend Brexiteer MP Frank Field For Backing Tories

Some party members want whip withdrawn as a punishment

PA Wire/PA Images

Veteran MP Frank Field is facing a move by his local Labour activists to have him suspended from the party as a punishment for voting with Theresa May on Brexit.

The former minister’s Merseyside constituency party will on Friday discuss an emergency motion to demand the “immediate” withdrawal of the Labour whip in protest at him backing the government last week.

Members of Birkenhead constituency Labour party (CLP) say that Field’s decision to vote with the Conservatives on the EU Trade Bill had shown a “total disregard” for Jeremy Corbyn’s wider efforts to remove May from power.

Withdrawing the Labour whip would mean Field would have to sit as an independent MP in the House of Commons and would be seen as a first step on his possible expulsion or deselection.

Field was one of four Labour rebels, along with Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer and John Mann, who have been accused by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell of helping to “prop up” the government.

If the four had voted with Labour to keep the UK in an EU customs union, some in the party argue that the defeat would have been so serious for the PM that she would have had to consider her position. 

On Thursday, veteran MP Hoey’s local party in Vauxhall unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in her, while also requesting that the whip is withdrawn. 

Hoey, who has been the MP for almost three decades, is currently in Zimbabwe acting as an advisor to upcoming elections and was not able to attend the meeting. 

Birkenhead CLP
The agenda for the next Birkenhead CLP meeting

But the 76-year-old chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee told HuffPost that the local move against him was “Momentum-inspired”.

He added that had no intention of backing off what he saw as representing his local voters’ wishes to quit the EU, in a constituency that voted to Leave by 52% to 48%.

Website WirralLeaks revealed the call to withdraw the whip is on the agenda for Friday’s meeting of Birkenhead CLP.

The move came after the Bidston and St James branch claimed that their MP was “refusing to assist his Parliamentary colleagues in removing one of the cruellest and savage administrations this country has produced (including the Thatcher government)”.

Birkenhead CLP
Birkenhead CLP
The motion tabled by local members

One member, Brian Parsons, who attacked Field for not attending monthly meetings of his constituency party, also said Field’s actions had done Labour “a huge disservice” and could damage the party’s future election prospects locally.

Field told HuffPost that if the Birkenhead party’s General Committee decided to call for the withdrawal of the whip, it would then be up to the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) to decide on the next step.

“I think it’s Momentum inspired the resolution and like many of the constituencies in Merseyside they have an increasing presence,” he said. 

“It has to then go to the NEC, they decide. As I’ve been in the Labour Party over 60 years, I would have thought that was something to put against people who one hardly knows.

“I go out regularly with a group [of members], canvassing and electioneering. Most of the GC [General Committee] I never see on any of these activities.”

PA Archive/PA Images
Brexiteer MP Kate Hoey

Field, who has said that the poorer the area the bigger the Leave vote, insisted that he had acted in line with what the majority of his local residents want.

“First, what I’m representing is what we said in the manifesto, which is we would implement the Brexit referendum decision,” he said.

“Secondly, it was in my own election address to the Birkenhead electorate. Thirdly, they voted to leave. And fourthly, two thirds of Labour seats voted to leave and many of those are represented by people who really wish to stay.”

In Bidston and St James ward in the 2016 referendum, the Leave vote was even higher than the average for the constituency, with 56% backing Brexit and 44% wanting to remain in the EU.

Field said that his relations with some in his local party had broken down because “untrustworthy” members had started recording his private conversations with them and posting photos of him on left-wing websites.

McDonnell told the BBC on Wednesday that he would keep talking to the Labour rebels “to convince them that the more they prop up this government, the more damage this government will do…I just say to them, as respectfully as I possibly can, you are making the wrong decision here, come alongside.”

Field refused to criticise the Shadow Chancellor. “Every key vote we’ve had on Europe since he’s been in the House, he and I have been in the same lobby so I’m not critical of him at all.”