A Yorkshire Liberal Democrat MP has confirmed he is willing to defy the party leadership over plans to oppose Article 50, despite arguments by party colleagues that they have a “duty” to block the Government’s pursuit of a “hard Brexit”.
The Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland yesterday stated he will not follow leader Tim Farron in voting against triggering Brexit talks in the event the
party cannot secure a second referendum – but will instead abstain.
The disclosure came ahead of a marathon 12 hour debate in the Commons, as MPs had their first opportunity to scrutinise and amend the Government’s Brexit Bill.
It also came as fellow Lib Dem MP Nick Clegg claimed Theresa May rejected offers of an “emergency brake” from German officials, after caving to pressure from Eurosceptic backbenchers.
Following last year’s vote to leave the EU, the Lib Dem leadership position has been to oppose the Government’s plans for a hard Brexit and push for a second referendum on the final deal.
Tim Farron has repeatedly stated that his party would be willing to vote against Article 50 unless these conditions are met, and is joined by six other Lib Dems MPs in backing an amendment to the Brexit Bill.
It is understood that unless this amendment passes, Lib Dem MPs will face a three line whip to vote against the legislation. However, Mr Mulholland has confirmed that he would not join his party in opposing Article 50, as he believes negotiations with Europe “should be allowed to commence”.
“The outcome of these negotiations is hugely important to the British economy... So I support there being a referendum on the terms of exit so the British people are the ones who decide what our relationship with these nations will be,” he said.
“[But] as I have made clear, including to constituents, I do think that these negotiations should be allowed to commence and that I would not block them doing so.
“What is crucial is that all MPs scrutinise the progress of the negotiations and continue to push the Government to ensure British businesses have access to the biggest market in the world.
“I will support sensible amendments to the Bill to ensure the Government keeps Parliament and the British people informed... and that British businesses continue to be allowed to trade with European nations without damaging and costly tariffs and barriers.”
In contrast, Nick Clegg issued a passionate plea to Parliament yesterday, as he told MPs they have “a duty to withhold from the Government the right to proceed with Brexit in the way they have planned”.
He stressed that this does not amount to a permanent block to leaving the EU, but would force the Government to “go back to the drawing board and come back to this House with a more sensible and moderate approach”.
He also claimed that shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May was told that German officials were willing to explore an “emergency brake” on immigration in return for “an undisruptive economic Brexit”.
But he said the Conservative leader turned it down in order “to placate parts of the Conservative party” and “pander to the eye-popping vitriol and bile” of the “Brexit right-wing press”.
“What did this Government choose to do? They decided to spurn all friendship links with Europe [and] disregard the needs of Scotland, Northern Ireland and, indeed, our great capital London,” he said.