Labour MPs face three-line whip to oppose EU withdrawal bill

Houses Of Parliament

Labour will impose a three-line whip on its MPs to vote against the EU withdrawal bill next week, while stressing that the party still fully respects the democratic decision of the country in the Brexit referendum.

The party said it could not support the bill in its current form because it would “let government ministers grab powers from parliament to slash people’s rights at work and reduce protection for consumers and the environment”.

A decision to vote against the bill was taken collectively by the shadow cabinet after Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, set out the case against backing it.

Labour’s refusal to support the legislation means Theresa May will have to rely on the help of the Democratic Unionist party to get her flagship legislation passed to its next stage. It is due to be debated by parliament on Thursday and votes will take place on Monday.

A handful of Labour rebels could vote with the government, but the Scottish National party and Liberal Democrats also plan to vote against the bill after tabling amendments setting out their reasons for opposing it.

A Labour spokeswoman said the party “fully respects the democratic decision to leave the European Union, voted to trigger article 50 and backs a jobs-first Brexit with full tariff-free access to the European single market”.

But she added: “The government’s EU withdrawal bill would allow Conservative ministers to set vital terms on a whim, including of Britain’s exit payment, without democratic scrutiny.

“Nobody voted in last year’s referendum to give this Conservative government sweeping powers to change laws by the back door. The slogan of the leave campaign was about people taking back control and restoring powers to parliament.

“This power-grab bill would do the opposite. It would allow the government to seize control from the parliament that the British people have just elected.”

A spokeswoman confirmed this meant voting against the bill at second reading on Monday, and it is understood there will be a three-line whip for MPs.

If the legislation passes to its next stage as expected, it will reappear for line-by-line scrutiny during its committee stage in the House of Commons in October. This is the point at which backbench Conservatives are likely to team up with opposition MPs in their attempts to amend the bill, but they will be most likely to support changes proposed by backbenchers rather than Corbyn’s leadership team.

They will target areas such as trying to stay in the single market during at least the transitional period, securing a guarantee for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and watering down the ability of ministers to change primary legislation through secondary legislation – a practice known as exercising Henry VIII powers.

Conservative MPs will not rebel by voting against the bill at second reading on Monday but there is some scope for a cross-party revolt if the government tries to restrict the number of days for debate.

A number of Labour MPs are urging their party not to help the government by supporting the “programme motion”, which will set a time limit for debate on the bill.

Chris Leslie, a Labour MP and former shadow chancellor, said: “Maastricht took five weeks to debate. I think it would be ludicrous if there was some sort of agreement on the programme motion when it will take time to find the issues where there is cross-party consensus on amendments.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 5th September 2017 15.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010