Jeremy Corbyn suffers biggest Brexit rebellion as six Labour frontbenchers resign and dozens defy party whip

UK

Jeremy Corbyn has suffered his biggest Brexit rebellion in the Commons as nearly 90 backbenchers defied his orders and six junior frontbenchers resigned from their roles.

It follows the Labour leader’s decision to instruct his MPs to abstain on a Lords amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that would have kept Britain in the European Economic Area (EEA) after Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

In total, 74 Labour MPs voted for EEA membership while 15 voted with the government against the so-called Norway model – bringing the rebellion to 89.

On the Conservative benches three MPs defied Theresa May and voted for the EEA amendment, including the prominent pro-EU MPs Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve.

In recent months Mr Corbyn has come under significant pressure to back the amendment from his own backbenchers, despite previously dismissing the EEA as “not appropriate” for the UK.

Instead, the party had put forward its own amendment seeking to negotiate “full access” to the EU’s single market and guarantee “no new impediments” to trade.

But this motion – put forward by the Labour frontbench in a concerted effort to dissuade dozens of party rebels from supporting the Lords’ EEA amendment — was voted down in the Commons during a series of crunch votes on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill by 322 to 240 votes.

Before the vote Labour announced that six of its MPs had left the frontbench in order to vote against the party whip, including Laura Smith, who resigned from her junior shadow cabinet role.

The other five – Ged Killen, Rosie Duffield, Ellie Reeves, Tonia Antoniazza, and Anna McMorrin – all stepped aside from their roles as Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPS).

Mr Corbyn said on Wednesday evening that he understood the difficulties of MPs representing constituencies which voted strongly for either Leave or Remain at the EU referendum.

“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 option for Britain,” he said. “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.”

He continued: “But we are not voting with the government on this amendment because the Conservatives offer no plan for securing the full tariff free access to the EU’s internal market, which is so vital for jobs and living standards in our country.

“Labour will continue to use every opportunity to hold the government to account and protect jobs, rights and living standards.”

But the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable accused Labour of “wasting” an opportunity to defeat the government on EEA membership.

“[Mr] Corbyn is completely defunct as an opposition leader,” he said. “Their alternative fudge amendment was nothing more than a meaningless distraction. Once again, Labour has abdicated its duty as the official opposition and is instead going right along with the Tories’ chaotic Brexit.”

In separate votes in the Commons on Wednesday evening the government avoided any defeats and successfully overturned amendments made to the Bill in the Lords. On a motion to retain the Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law, MPs voted by 321 to 301 to reject it – a majority of 20.

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