Rachael Maskell interview: Resignation and a rebellion all in a year's work for York MP

She clashed with her party's leaders over Brexit, but now Rachael Maskell is back on Labour's front bench with a transport brief. Kate Langston reports.

Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, near the city walls close to her office in York.

Rachael Maskell’s year began with a resignation and a rebellion. In February, the York Central MP became one of 52 Labour MPs who defied the party Whip and voted against the Bill to trigger Article 50.

Almost a year on, she has returned to the Labour frontbenches. And while Brexit continues to be a bone of contention for her Labour colleagues, she says she has no regrets about the decision to put her personal convictions above party politics.

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“It’s obviously a very difficult choice when you step down from a position, particularly something like Shadow Environment Secretary which was something I was very passionate about,” she tells The Yorkshire Post.

Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, near to the Micklegate Bar in the city walls close to her office in York.

“But ultimately I couldn’t vote for something that was going to result in my constituents being poorer, that’s going to result in our country losing job opportunities, and is ultimately going to wreck our economy.

“I took careful analysis of the impact of what would happen if we left the EU. Sadly I’ve been proved to be right.

“Particularly coming from a city which had that same analysis and voted almost two thirds to remain inside the EU, I thought it was my responsibility to represent that voice.”

Maskell was one of more than a dozen Labour frontbenchers to rebel on the Article 50 vote, with other high-profile Shadow Cabinet resignations including the Corbyn ally Clive Lewis and the then-Shadow Minister for Diverse Communities, Dawn Butler.

Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, near to the Micklegate Bar in the city walls close to her office in York.

Since then, the Labour leadership has taken a noticeably softer line on Brexit, insisting that “all options must be kept on the table” when it comes to the UK’s future relationship with the EU - including continued access to the single market and contributions to the EU budget.

Asked whether she believes the rebellion played any role in changing Labour policy on Brexit, Maskell appears to disagree, instead suggesting that some of the party’s earlier lines were down to “a kind of knee-jerk reaction straight after the referendum”.

“What we’ve really shown as Labour is that we want to ensure there is stability for our country,” she says.

“As much as Theresa May may stand up at that Despatch Box and say we have a plan and all the rest of it, nobody believes it. Everybody can see the Government are in complete chaos.”

Looking ahead to 2018, she is determined to continue pushing for an outcome that works for her constituents and the wider economy.

This includes being willing to vote down the Government’s flagship EU Withdrawal Bill – which still has to pass its third reading and the House of Lords - if attempts to amend the controversial piece of legislation fail.

“On every single vote I’m the MP that’s running through the lobbies with a copy of the Bill and a copy of amendments to make sure I’m acting in the best interests of what my constituents voted for,” she states.

“I’ll continue to do that. But if the Bill does not match up... if it does not deliver for the people of York, I will not be supporting it.”

Her new role as Labour’s Shadow Transport Minister has already provided several opportunities to grill ministers about historic under-investment in road and rail services outside London, and to condemn the decision anounced this summer by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to scrap electrification schemes in Yorkshire.

With MPs and other local leaders continuing to apply pressure on the Government to deliver on its transport promises, Maskell remains optimistic of a U-turn on the East Midlands project.

“It’s complete nonsense why the government won’t electrify the line,” she says. “The government has been appalling on transport across the piece.

“Between York and Leeds, its an easy electrification process, and bi-mode trains are not the solution to the future.

“We will be pushing... to electrify the system across the country, and to bring the other upgrades that are vital.”

Maskell is also dismissive of reports of fresh tensions arising between moderate factions within the Labour party and the left-wing movement, Momentum.

Recent weeks have seen a number of headlines about “purges” in Labour-held councils such as Haringey and Tower Hamlets in London as Corbyn supporters seek to oust his critics. However, Maskell insists that the party remains united. “We’re a broad church, that is our strength, it’s not our weakness,” she states.