The Labour split on Article 50 was on full display over the weekend

"The issue of Europe, which once divided the Tories, looks set to do the same to Labour."
"The issue of Europe, which once divided the Tories, looks set to do the same to Labour."

By Ben Gartside

The threat of mass resignations from Labour's front bench over Article 50 may have been averted for now, but the Brexit dilemma facing MPs has by no means gone away. With the party seeming to have reached an impasse between the interests of its members and the interests of electability, it was no surprise that the impending vote on the Article 50 bill was a hot topic of discussion at the Co-operative economy conference on Saturday. And the differing views among Labour MPs were clear to see.

Last week, Lewisham MP Heidi Alexander tabled a reasoned amendment, with 20 other Labour MPs, in order to keep Britain in the single market. This received large amounts of support from many London MPs, who are likely to face a threat from the rejuvenated Liberal Democrats. The prominent moderate MP for Ilford South, Mike Gapes, is one of the co-sponsors of the amendment.

"We didn't vote to leave Europol, the Single Market or the Customs Union, so I'll be voting for Heidi's amendment," he told Politics.co.uk on Saturday. Although Gapes faces no real threat from the Liberal Democrats, his vote appears to be a principled stand against what he believes is a too severe form of leaving the European Union.


Co-operative economy conference

However, not everyone agrees. Jonathan Reynolds, Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, played down talk of an "advisory" referendum, saying:

"I will vote to invoke article 50, I respect the result of the referendum. I know what people are saying about the referendum being advisory...I never believed during the campaign that it was anything other than for keeps. I was at the national count at Manchester Town Hall and no one even mentioned the word advisory."

For the MPs whose constituents voted for Brexit despite the threat it posed to their local area, the issue is even more complex. Just take Tom Blenkinsop, the MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.

"I intend to act upon the result of the referendum and vote for Article 50. 66% of my constituents voted for Brexit, as did 52% of the UK," he said. "But I will be expecting an adequate response from the government as to how we replace European funds that will now be lost to my constituency and the rest of the North East, including Trade Tariff protection measures against dumped Chinese Steel."

With Keir Starmer, Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott all pledging to vote for Article 50, other London MPs are under significant pressure to follow suit. Gareth Thomas, the chair of the Co-operative party and representative for Harrow East told us that he would be consulting his members and constituents and would decide what to do this week.

This follows the resignation last week of Jo Stevens from the shadow cabinet and Tulip Siddiq from Labour's front bench. Meanwhile, two party whips, whose job it is to enforce discipline, look set to defy the leader and vote against the triggering of Article 50. Shadow business secretary Clive Lewis has also warned that he may vote against the bill if the government doesn't accept Labour's amendments.

Labour MPs are being forced to decide between national party interests, local party interests and internal party interests, so it's not hard to see why they can't agree on the best way forward. But there's a feeling that the heavily pro-remain outlook of Labour members has the potential to turn the party on its head. Some commentators have suggested pro-European MPs like David Lammy, who were previously perceived to be in the wilderness, are now serious contenders to be the party's next Leader. That remains to be seen but what is clear is that the issue of Europe, which once divided the Tories, looks set to do the same to Labour.

Ben Gartside is a freelance writer and student at the University of Hull. You can follow him on Twitter here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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