Labour MPs break ranks to challenge Government's Brexit plans

A HANDFUL of defiant Labour MPs tonight threatened to block plans set out by Brexit Secretary David Davis to commit Parliament to backing the his timetable for leaving the EU.

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer

At least five MPs were expected to break ranks with their colleagues and vote against a Government motion to trigger Article 50 in March, arguing it was an attempt to strong-arm the Commons.

Among the rebels was the Penistone and Stockbridge MP Angela Smith, who claimed she had “no confidence” in ministers to deliver on a pledge to publish details of their negotiating plans.

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Mrs Smith was also one of several Yorkshire MPs pressing Government to provide more information to businesses, and to include communities across the country in its Brexit consultations.

Labour’s official position in yesterday’s debate was to support a Government amendment agreeing to reveal details of its negotiating strategy in exchange for a commitment to triggering Article 50 by March next year.

Opening for the opposition, shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer welcomed the “eleventh-hour concession”, describing it as a “victory for common sense”.

However, a number of Labour MPs signalled their discontent with the position, arguing that the Government had not conceded enough ground on how much information it would release to Parliament.

This resulted in at least five MPs publicly refusing to join the party in voting with their Tory rivals, with more MPs expected to abstain.

Explaining her position, Mrs Smith argued that it was reasonable for MPs to expect more guarantees “before accepting the government negotiating position”.

She claimed nothing she had heard gave her “any confidence” that the Government “will not try to wiggle out of the commitment to put a plan before this House”.

“I believe that we need a proper time table and sufficient time for Parliament to scrutinise these proposals and to amend them if necessary,” she said.

“This is not a vote against Brexit, but rather against a motion that will potentially curtail the right of Parliament to act in the national interest.”

Mrs Smith also stressed the importance for the Government to answer key questions around trade and immigration before proceeding with negotiations.

In particular, she flagged up the potential impact of Brexit on the agricultural industry, and urged ministers to give farmers more guarantees on migrant workers and farm payments.

Her calls were echoed by the Doncaster Central MP Rosie Winterton, who warned that companies in her constituency are “suffering because of the uncertainty”.

She suggested the Government needs to be “open and up front” about its plans “so that companies and workers can plan accordingly”.

Ms Winterton also called on ministers to include regions like Yorkshire and the Humber in their consultations, and to conduct a “region by region” analysis of the impact of Brexit.

She argued the offer had already been made to devolved nations and should be extended to “the other regions of the UK”.

“Ministers have said that they will consult Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about the Brexit negotiations, but what about Yorkshire and the Humber,” she said.

“Will the Minister tell us what the process will be for consulting the regions, and how companies and others in my constituency will be able to contribute to that process.”

This view was shared by Labour frontbencher Jon Trickett, who said the Government must take steps to secure a Brexit “that works for Yorkshire and not just simply for the city of London”.

“We don’t want Mrs May simply to be influenced by city interests and ignore the interests of a region like Yorkshire that is so powerful but has so often been neglected by the decision makers,” he said.

Commenting on concerns raised by the so-called rebels, he said the people “have spoken” and MPs have to accept their decision.