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Labour rebels 'could keep jobs despite Brexit Bill defiance'

Rebel Labour frontbenchers who defied Jeremy Corbyn to vote against the Bill to trigger the Brexit negotiations may still retain their jobs, according to shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Only members of Mr Corbyn's top shadow cabinet team who opposed the EU (Notification Of Withdrawal) Bill in the Commons on Wednesday will be forced to quit immediately, Mr McDonnell said.

However a decision on whether 10 junior shadow ministers and three whips who voted against the Bill will also have to go will not be taken until it has completed its passage through the Commons next week.

Mr McDonnell said chief whip Nick Brown would make a report to Mr Corbyn with a recommendation as to what action should be taken.

"The parliamentary convention will apply, which is that ,if you are in the cabinet or shadow cabinet, you will stand down," Mr McDonnell told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"For other positions that will be for the chief whip to report and that will be in due course. I am not going to pre-empt what the whip is going to recommend."

On Wednesday, shadow environment secretary Rachael Maskell announced she was resigning from the shadow cabinet to oppose the Bill.

It followed a similar move last week by shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens.

But while two shadow junior ministers - Dawn Butler and Tulip Siddiq - have also quit, the other rebels remain in post at least for now, despite having defied a three-line whip - the strongest parliamentary instruction to MPs telling them which way to vote.

In all, 47 Labour MPs voted with the SNP and the Liberal Democrats to oppose the Bill, which authorises the Government to invoke Article 50, marking the start of the formal two-year Brexit process.

Mr McDonnell denied suggestions that shadow home secretary Diane Abbott - who did not vote because she was ill - had stayed away because she could not bring herself to support Brexit in the division lobbies.

"She wasn't very well. There wasn't going to be a close vote. If there was a close vote we'd be bringing even sick people back," he said.

He insisted that once the Bill had completed its passage through Parliament, the Labour Party would unite under Mr Corbyn's leadership while the Conservatives would disintegrate under the pressure of the divisions in their ranks.

"We may look divided at the moment because we have had to wrestle with this fact that we campaigned for Remain but now the referendum has been lost," he said.

"The irony is, when we get past Article 50 our party is capable now of uniting to make sure that we protect our country under this leader. This Tory Party will split apart."

He confirmed that Labour would not seek to obstruct the triggering of Article 50, but said that did not mean they were giving the Prime Minister a "blank cheque" in the negotiations.

"We will not oppose Article 50 going through. The real battle comes after Article 50 when the Government then has to start coming back with the details of those negotiations," he said.

"We'll be making sure we work with other political parties to prevent Theresa May's reckless Brexit she has imposed. We will protect jobs and the economy. That is what we will do."

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