Johnson’s Brexit bill passes with Labour backing – but 37 rebels defy Starmer

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The European Union future relationship bill implementing the trade deal struck by Boris Johnson has won the approval of MPs including Labour – but a significant number of rebels have broken the whip set by Keir Starmer.

The government bill passed the Commons by a majority of 448 votes today following a four-and-a-half hour debate. While Labour MPs were whipped to vote in favour, 37 chose to defy the leadership’s instructions.

The Labour rebels included frontbenchers Tonia Antoniazzi, Helen Hayes and Florence Eshalomi, who quit their posts to abstain on the controversial bill facilitating the implementation of the post-Brexit deal.

Welsh MP Antoniazzi was a parliamentary private secretary to the work and pensions and Scottish teams, London MP Hayes was a shadow Cabinet Office minister and Eshalomi – also a London MP – was an opposition whip.

The rebels were from across Labour’s factional spectrum, from Starmer supporters Ben Bradshaw, Neil Coyle and Stella Creasy to figures such as Richard Burgon and John McDonnell who are associated with the last leadership.

Around 20 to 25 Labour MPs had been predicted this week to rebel, but those close to the Labour leadership have highlighted that an earlier report had warned that “up to 60” MPs could rebel on the key vote.

Nearly all of those opting to go against the Labour whip abstained on the bill rather than opposing it. The legislation passed at both second and third reading in the Commons with 521 MPs in favour and 73 against each time.

Opening the Brexit debate for Labour in the chamber, Starmer described the decision as a “simple vote with a simple choice” – deal or no deal. He said Labour would vote in favour to avoid the outcome of no deal.

He criticised the Prime Minister for claiming that there will be no additional trade barriers as a result of the deal. Starmer said there would be many new checks and “significant and permanent burdens” on UK businesses.

The Labour leader was challenged over whether the deal meets the six tests he set out in in 2017 and over Scottish Labour appearing to take a different view on Johnson’s deal, to which he replied that the Holyrood vote was different.

Starmer was also criticised by Theresa May, who told him: “He said he wanted a better deal. He had the opportunity in early 2019 when there was the opportunity of better deal on the table and he voted against it.”

Closing the debate for Labour by video link, Rachel Reeves said: “The alternative, the chaos of no deal, is not something any responsible government could facilitate – and neither could a responsible government-in-waiting.”

She added: “It’s not about whether you want to Remain or Leave. It’s not about whether you think this deal is good enough. We know that it isn’t. But voting for this deal now is the only way to avoid no deal.”

Listing the limitations of the deal, Reeves argued that the UK’s trade surplus on services has not been protected, the government did not stand up for the cultural industries and customs agents are not in place as promised.

“We are not this deal’s cheerleaders, far from it,” she told MPs. But the Labour frontbencher concluded: “It is important that this bill passes today, as limited as it is, because no deal is no solution for our country.”

Read about the contributions to the Brexit debate today in full by catching up on our liveblog.

Labour rebels:

Voted against – 1
Bell Ribeiro-Addy

No vote recorded – 36
Diane Abbott
Tonia Antoniazzi
Apsana Begum
Olivia Blake
Ben Bradshaw
Kevin Brennan
Richard Burgon
Dawn Butler
Neil Coyle
Stella Creasy
Janet Daby
Geraint Davies
Peter Dowd
Rosie Duffield
Clive Efford
Florence Eshalomi
Mary Kelly Foy
Barry Gardiner
Helen Hayes
Meg Hillier
Dr Rupa Huq
Dame Diana Johnson
Darren Jones
Clive Lewis
Rebecca Long-Bailey
Siobhain McDonagh
John McDonnell
Catherine McKinnell
Ian Mearns
Kate Osamor
Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Andy Slaughter
Zarah Sultana
Nadia Whittome
Beth Winter
Mohammad Yasin

Jeremy Corbyn and Claudia Webbe, who have the Labour whip suspended, also abstained.

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