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Corbyn urged to sack Labour frontbenchers who back Brexit repeal bill

Labour has decided to vote against the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill at the second reading.

Jeremy Corbyn has been urged to sack any frontbenchers who rebel to back the Brexit repeal bill in a House of Commons vote on Monday or Labour’s shift towards a “softer” Brexit will be seen as a “sham”.

Labour has decided to vote against the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill at second reading, its first Commons stage, arguing so-called “Henry VIII” powers in the legislation amount to a Government power-grab.

But Brexit-backing backbencher Kate Hoey has warned her own party that opposing the Bill at such an early stage amounts to “betraying the will of the British people”, highlighting the difficulty faced by Labour MPs who represent Leave areas in Monday’s vote.

Mr Corbyn in June sacked three shadow ministers who were among the 50 MPs who defied the party whip to back a motion calling for Britain to remain in the single market.

But in a dramatic policy shift last month, Labour committed to membership of the single market and customs union during a transition period after the UK’s official exit from the EU in March 2019.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake urged the Labour leader to be just as “ruthless” in Monday’s vote as he was in June or risk undermining his party’s softer Brexit stance.

Tory MPs are expected to back the Bill on Monday, making its passage apparently safe, but have signalled they could rebel to back amendments at later stages.

Mr Brake said: “The chance to inflict a historic defeat against the Government’s hard Brexit plans rests on whether Jeremy Corbyn can show leadership and keep his party united.

“Corbyn must show the same ruthlessness towards his pro-Brexit MPs as he has to pro-European ones in the past. Any frontbenchers who defy the party whip should be sacked, or else Labour’s recent shift towards supporting a softer Brexit will be exposed as a sham.

“The Liberal Democrats will be united in opposing a Conservative extreme Brexit and seeking to give the British people the final say.”

Sources have indicated around a dozen Labour MPs could rebel and vote for the Bill, with more potentially abstaining.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth denied Labour was shifting its Brexit position, and also rejected deputy leader Tom Watson’s belief that the UK could permanently remain part of the single market and customs union after Brexit.

Mr Ashworth told Sky News’s Sunday with Niall Paterson: “We always accepted the people of Britain voted for Brexit but that doesn’t mean we have to give carte blanche to government.

“It means we need to speak out for people’s livelihoods and people’s businesses and for people’s jobs here in constituencies like my own of Leicester South.”

Meanwhile, David Davis warned Labour MPs they risk creating chaos and uncertainty if they scupper the Government’s plans for transferring laws from Brussels to Britain.

The Brexit Secretary said dissension in a key Commons vote on the Great Repeal Bill on Monday would be “simply an attempt to thwart the democratic process”, urging MPs on all sides to back the legislation.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Davis insisted negotiations with Brussels were “delivering steady progress” on issues like citizens’ rights and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

He said it is “not a moment to go backwards”, dismissing criticism of the Government’s flagship bill as “vacuous”.

“Any broad attempt to block the Bill, without any sense of a viable alternative, is simply an attempt to thwart the democratic process,” Mr Davis wrote. “So, as my colleagues in the House of Commons proceed through the voting lobbies tomorrow, they must remember what they are voting for.

“They are not voting on whether or not we leave the EU. That decision was made by the British people last June. Nor are they voting for the terms of our exit. Those will be agreed as we proceed through our negotiations with the EU.

“What they are voting on is how we leave: whether our withdrawal is smooth and orderly, or chaotic and uncertain.”

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