Brexit

Lewis defies Corbyn as bill passed

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London yesterday. The Opposition leader is confident his shadow cabinet will support the bill this time PICTURE: PA

MPs have given Theresa May their authority to formally begin Brexit in an overwhelming House of Commons vote.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal Bill) was approved at third reading, its final Commons stage, after Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs to back it.

But the Labour leader was unable to prevent the resignation of senior shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis, who quit the frontbench to vote against the Bill in defiance of a three-line whip.

The legislation, which will give the Prime Minister the authority to begin exit talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties, was passed by 494 votes to 122, majority 372.

But it will now have to pass through the House of Lords before Mrs May can invoke Article 50, which she has promised to do by April.

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Lewis made clear yesterday morning that he had not yet made his mind up whether to follow the three-line whip agreed at a shadow cabinet meeting the previous day.

A Labour source was asked last night if he was sure Diane Abbott – whose north London constituency voted strongly to remain in the EU – would turn out for the third reading vote completing the bill’s passage through the Commons.

“She’s better now,” he said. 

Ms Abbott voted for the bill.

Mr Corbyn was earlier taunted over Ms Abbott’s absence from Prime Minister’s Questions by Mrs May, who quipped: “Perhaps members of the Labour Party are starting to realise the only real headache is their leader.”

But the Labour source confirmed the Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP was at Westminster and would take part in the vote.

The source confirmed that rebellion at third reading would be a sacking offence for shadow cabinet members, adding: “We are confident that members of the shadow cabinet will support the call from the shadow cabinet itself to follow a three-line whip.”

Some 47 pro-Remain Labour MPs defied the leadership to oppose the bill at second reading, with shadow environment secretary Rachael Maskell, shadow Wales secretary Jo Stevens and shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler stepping down from Mr Corbyn’s top team to do so.

The Labour source said Mr Corbyn will decide “in the next few days” whether to sack 10 junior shadow ministers and three whips who defied his orders to vote for the Article 50 bill last week.

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