Labour tensions rise over Brexit and antisemitism

Sienna Rodgers
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Although the second meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal due to take place this week has been put off until March, there is a lot going on in Westminster. Jeremy Corbyn and the Prime Minister have both made major new commitments over the last 48 hours: the former that his party will back another referendum; the latter that MPs will be given the chance to extend Article 50 if her deal is defeated again in March. These pledges are expected to feature heavily at PMQs at midday, which will be followed by a debate on the government’s latest amendable Brexit motion and a series of votes.

The new round of amendment votes was set to be a game-changer. But May has attempted to quash the drama by giving into the demands of Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin, offering a vote on ‘no deal’ by 13th March and on a “short, limited” delay by 14th March. The original Cooper/Letwin amendment remains on the order paper but probably won’t be put to a vote. (They don’t trust the PM, but why risk defeat if they’ve already won?) There’s another twist, however: backbenchers have also tabled an amendment (d) for indicative votes on March 19th. Visit LabourList from 7pm to follow the vote results.

Labour’s shift towards supporting another EU referendum may have paused MP resignations, but tensions within the Labour Party have not been eliminated. Far from it in fact, as MPs opposed to a second public vote complain that the party’s position goes against its commitment to respect the 2016 result and will probably lose Labour marginal Leave seats. There is also widespread agreement among Labour MPs that The Independent Group clinched it, which means “you can have more impact on Labour policy by leaving the party than by staying in it” in the words of Lisa Nandy.

On the other side, campaigners are suspicious that the leadership is A-OK with the idea being voted down in March. After all, LabourList hears that the shift required a three-hour pre-PLP meeting for Keir Starmer to convince Corbyn on Monday, and that the leader’s office is still quietly making plans to get a better Brexit plan through after the second referendum amendment falls. Amid these rumours, activist group Another Europe is Possible has urged the party to “campaign for a public vote, not just vote for one”.

Aside from differences over Brexit, the party is still mired in its antisemitism battle. Chris Williamson is currently at the centre of it, after being found by Jewish News to have planned a Jackie Walker film screening and by the Yorkshire Post to have said Labour has been “too apologetic” over antisemitism claims. HOPE not hate, Jewish groups and a number of Labour MPs including Tom Watson have condemned the behaviour.

Labour has said it will contact Williamson and ensure the room booking for the screening is cancelled, but might further action be taken? On top of the party saying it wouldn’t support a Hezbollah ban, a muted response to these events is thought to risk further defections to The Independent Group. And some MPs believe that threat is now the most effective way to jolt higher-ups into action.

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