BRITAIN’S DEPARTURE from the European Union will be “more difficult” for Labour than any other party, a shadow cabinet minister has admitted.
Barry Gardiner insisted the fact the Government faced a vote in the Commons on leaving the EU showed Labour was providing an effective opposition.
The Shadow International Trade Secretary was visiting Leeds on the day after 47 of his party’s MPs defied a three-line whip to vote against the Brexit Bill.
The Brexit rebels included York Central MP Rachael Maskell, one of four members of the shadow frontbench team to quit their roles in order to vote to block the Bill, and Wakefield MP Mary Creagh.
Mr Gardiner told The Yorkshire Post: “Brexit is more difficult for the Labour Party than any other party, that’s absolutely clear.
“If you look at all Labour voters across the country, about two-thirds of them support Remain but if you look at Labour constituencies, that is constituencies with a Labour MP, two-thirds of them support Leave.
“That means we are as a party much more reflective of and representative of the divisions that actually exist in our country than any other party.”
He continued: “We have a divided country and I think it is our job as the Opposition not simply to ignore that divide but to say look it’s real.”
Ms Maskell quit as Shadow Environment Secretary on the eve of Wednesday’s crucial vote on the Bill which will give Theresa May the power to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and being the process of leaving the EU.
Jo Stevens, Dawn Butler and Tulip Siddiq also quit Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow team ahead of the vote.
Mr Gardiner said he has “huge respect for my colleagues and the difficulties they face” because they were caught between representing constituencies which voted Remain in last year’s referendum and the country’s decision overall to leave the EU.
He said his own decision to support the Brexit Bill was based on the “principle of democracy itself”.
“I know that had my side of the referendum vote won, had the referendum decided by 52 to 48 to stay in the European Union and the government had then said ‘well actually we’ve decided to take us out of Europe’ I’d have been furious.”
He added: “I’m not disheartened by it, I’m sorry that some colleagues have chosen not to vote with the whip but I understand it, I respect it, I take a different line.”
Mr Corbyn and Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer have faced criticism from within Labour ranks over the party’s uncertain response to the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans.
But Mr Gardiner defended Labour’s record, insisting yesterday’s publication of the White Paper on Brexit was the latest example of the Government being forced
“If you look back three or four months, what you’ll find is at that stage the Labour Party was calling for scrutiny in Parliament, it called for a vote before we triggered Article 50, it called for a White Paper, we called for a vote at the end of the process.
“Theresa May said ‘no, no, no we are not going to give you any information, there’s no running commentary, Brexit means Brexit and that’s the end of it.’
“Every one of those things we called for three or four months ago she has now been forced to concede.
“That strikes me as an opposition that is doing its job incredibly effectively.”
Mr Gardiner was speaking after visiting Leeds textile manufacturer AW Hainsworth to hear about the firm’s concern at the potential loss of tariff-free access to the European single market.
He said it was important that Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal was “carefully crafted” so that id did not give any of the 27 remaining members of the EU grounds to veto it and expressed concern at Mrs May’s threat to resort to WTO rules if no trade deal can be agreed.