Labour suffered front bench resignations on Wednesday evening as MPs defied party orders to abstain on a plan to keep the UK in the EU’s Single Market after Brexit.
Crewe and Nantwich MP Laura Smith quit her job as Shadow Cabinet Office minister to vote against a Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would see the Government negotiate for the UK to be a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn instructed his MPs to abstain on the vote, claiming the so-called ‘Norway-model’ “would not work for the UK”.
Some 89 MPs ignored his orders, with 74 voting for the EEA amendment, and 15 voting against.
As well as Smith, five more MPs quit Corbyn’s shadow government – Ged Killen, Ellie Reeves, Tonia Antoniazzi, Anna McMorrin and Rosie Duffield – all of whom were junior shadow ministerial aides.
Unlike Smith, they all backed the UK joining the EEA.
The amendment – originally put forward by the Lords – was defeated 327 to 216.
An amendment put forward by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer which demanded the Government should seek full access to the Single Market was also defeated by 322 to 240 – with some pro-EEA Labour MPs refusing to back that amendment as they believed it did not go far enough.
Speaking after the resignations, Corbyn thanked the five for their work in his team, adding: “I understand the difficulties MPs representing constituencies which voted strongly for Leave or Remain have on the EEA amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill.
“The Labour Party respects the outcome of the EU referendum and does not support the EEA or Norway model as it is not the right for option for Britain. It would leave us with next to no say over rules we have to follow, it does not allow us to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union and it fails to resolve the Irish border issue.”
The debate on the amendments showed splits in both parties when it came to the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Labour’s Caroline Flint, who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum, told MPs staying in the Single Market would not deal with many voters’ concerns about immigration.
She said: “To move forward we cannot just cobble together, there has to be an end to freedom of movement, and then out of that we work out what sort of migration we want in the future.
“And my constituents, those Leave constituents, who have been insulted, day in, day out, by some of the comments in this House are not against all migration, but they do want to have a sense that we can turn the tap on and off when we choose.”
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