Yorkshire's Labour MPs split over Brexit as Tories back Boris Johnson on no deal

Yorkshire’s Labour MPs are deeply divided on their party’s Brexit stance – while the region’s Conservatives are increasingly willing to accept no deal. Chris Burn reports.

MPs return to Parliament today with Brexit divisions increasingly entrenched.

With little more than a month to go until Britain – in theory at least – leaves the European Union and MPs now returning to Westminster after the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful, the need to find solutions to the democratic, political and constitutional crisis that Brexit has become is ever more urgent.

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But – in something of a reflection of the country at large – the region’s MPs have very differing views on the way forward.

Dan Jarvis is one of the Yorkshire MPs who does not support Labour's policy of holding a second referendum.

The Yorkshire Post has contacted all 54 of the region’s MPs over the past week to find out where they stand, with the answers revealing Conservative MPs – including several who repeatedly supported Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement – now willing to accept a no-deal departure despite accepting it will have economic consequences.

Meanwhile, Labour MPs across the region are split, with many now planning to campaign for Remain in the event of a second referendum – while others want another vote to be avoided and a revised version of Theresa May’s deal passed by Parliament instead.

In chaotic scenes at the Labour conference in Brighton on Monday, party members backed Jeremy Corbyn’s controversial plan to go into the next general election without a stance on Brexit beyond his pledge to have a second referendum after renegotiating a new deal with the European Union. Following a vote on a disputed show of hands, the proposal that Labour would come out in favour of Remain was narrowly rejected – meaning that the party will not make a decision on how it will campaign until a special conference.

Clive Betts has said he would campaign for Remain in a second referendum but believes a no deal option should be on the ballot paper.

Speaking before that decision, Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman said he believes the party cannot sit on the fence and should already be backing Remain. “We are a great national party hoping to be in Government,” he said. “We have got to have a bold policy. We should get a referendum and campaign to revoke Article 50. Let’s be honest and let’s be absolutely clear, people are looking for honesty in their politics.”

While other Labour MPs were generally more supportive of the party’s position, eight others – Clive Betts, Mary Creagh, John Grogan, Fabian Hamilton, Rachael Maskell, Paula Sherriff, Alex Sobel and Thelma Walker – told this paper they intended to campaign for Remain in the event of a second vote, with others such as Hilary Benn having indicated they would take a similar stance in recent public statements.

Leeds North East MP Hamilton said: “From the outset, my position has been clear. I campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum and would campaign for Remain in any future referendum.

“I believe our future lies in Europe and we cannot turn our backs on our European partners and allies at this time of international instability, with a very conservative President in the White House and the rise of the far-right across Europe.”

Sheffield South East MP Betts said while he would back Remain and supports another vote, he believes that the ballot paper should include a no-deal option. “There are many people who believe that is what they voted for last time,” he said, adding that how such a vote would work would be a “challenge”.

But others – particularly in strongly Leave-backing areas of South Yorkshire – argue that Labour should respect the result of the referendum and attempt to pass a revised version of May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

Caroline Flint, Sarah Champion, Dan Jarvis, Melanie Onn, Stephanie Peacock and Kevin Barron were among 17 Labour MPs who put forward a successful amendment to anti no-deal legislation earlier this month which called for any extension to the UK’s departure date to be used for this purpose to deliver “an orderly Brexit”.

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis said: “The notion we simply revoke Article 50 is as divisive and dangerous as marching us off a ‘no-deal’ cliff edge. Nor do I believe another referendum will produce a result that provides the clarity we need and heals the divisions in our country.

“We are at an impasse but there is still time to break the deadlock by securing a deal in the national interest that respects the outcome of the referendum, whilst protecting jobs, living standards and our economy. What matters most is that we regenerate the North, rebuild our communities, and invest in our infrastructure and vital public services.”

Barnsley East MP Peacock added: “We voted to leave the European Union, and I continue to support that end. We can’t keep on dragging out our exit; the decision was made, and we have to leave. With our community and country divided, to chase either remain or no deal risks driving an irreparable schism through society.”

But while the Conservative party nationally has had its own divisions over Brexit – with 21 MPs expelled earlier this month for joining attempts to block no-deal – the Prime Minister’s ‘do or die’ approach to deliver Brexit by the end of next month is being backed by the region’s Tories, even though some admit there will be economic consequences from the decision.

Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby and a past supporter of May’s plan, said: “I’m 100 per cent behind the Prime Minister. We really don’t want to leave without a deal but if that is the only way, then we would have to leave without a deal. You can’t have a strong negotiating position without being prepared to go through with your threat.

“Economically, it would not be good news but if we are still in the EU on November 1 it would be curtains for the Conservative Party. The best chance we have of a deal is with no deal on the table. In the past the reason we haven’t been able to get movement is because they always took the view we would never go without one. But Boris is bloody-minded enough to take us out without a deal and that is why they are now coming to the table.”

Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake, another supporter of May’s deal, expressed a similar view.

“Although I voted to remain in the 2016 referendum I believe that it is our democratic duty to deliver Brexit and that we must leave the EU on October 31,” he said.

“I would much prefer a deal, which would be better for businesses and jobs and would mean we can enjoy a positive relationship with our EU friends. I believe that Mr Johnson will get a deal, but if he does not we will have to leave without one.

“The country badly needs a solution as everyone I speak to wants to get on with their lives and wants Parliament to focus on the other important issues such as health, social care, education, crime and housing.”

He added: “The whole Brexit issue is causing huge frictions between families, friends and communities and we must move on.”

Tory MP 'relaxed' about no deal possibility

Brexiteer Philip Davies says he is “perfectly relaxed” about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

The Conservative MP from Shipley said: “I support the Prime Minister in his desire to leave the EU with or without a deal on October 31.

“Nobody is more passionate about leaving the EU than me – I founded the Better Off Out group in Parliament back in 2006, long before it was fashionable! For the sake of our democracy, we must implement the result of the referendum as everyone promised at the time.

"I stood on a manifesto promise that stated ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ and I am perfectly relaxed about leaving the EU without a deal. I suspect it will be easier to negotiate a good deal with them after we have left than before we have left.”