Labour is facing a major rebellion by peers today when the House of Lords votes on an amendment to Brexit legislation seeking to keep the UK in the single market.
The bid to force the government into seeking membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) has the support of a number of Labour peers, but the party’s group in the Lords is being whipped to abstain when it comes to a vote.
Labour’s leadership has been accused of “cowardice” for forcing its peers to reject the measure, and several Scottish peers are expected to rebel, including Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, who said voters would never forgive Labour if it failed to support a soft Brexit.
Pressure is also being put on the Labour front bench from unions, with the TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes saying: “The time for abstaining or ambiguity on Brexit has now passed.”
“I am not prepared to support a pro-Brexit policy that betrays the workers of the UK,” Lord Foulkes said.
“It would be a dereliction of duty to abstain on this vital issue, and I will be joining with many Labour colleagues in supporting the policy agreed at our UK conference and sending the leadership a message that we must urgently do what’s right for the UK and prevent a hard Tory Brexit.
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“We know there is a majority to keep Britain in the Single Market when this issue returns to the Commons, provided Labour stands up to Theresa May and her Brexiteer allies.
“We need a united front to prevent a hard Brexit, and Scottish Labour has a key role to play in persuading the UK party to urgently change course. If we fail to do so, voters will never forgive us.”
The government is expected to see off the amendment tomorrow, with the majority of Labour peers abstaining, but it has faced a series of defeats on the Withdrawal Bill in the Lords and faces a difficult battle with pro-EU Tory rebels to strip amendments when the legislation returns to the Commons.
Writing for the Huffington Post website, Mr Cortes said “Labour’s leadership must be bold enough to rise with the turning tide and restate our remain case to Britain”.
“For the life of me I have no idea why now, when the real costs and consequences of splitting up with the EU are apparent and with the polls and the local election results showing, our Labour Party is not now refusing en masse to swallow this poisonous Tory prescription for our country,” the transport workers’ union chief wrote.
“The Tories last week suffered their tenth defeat in the Lords over their EU Withdrawal Bill… had Labour not instructed its Peers to abstain on a vote on a referendum on the final deal, the Tories would be in even deeper trouble.
“We must not repeat this mistake on Tuesday… we should be digging the Tories’ political grave not lending them the shovels to prepare ours.”