[Image: Jonathan Brady/PA].

Jeremy Corbyn has clarified that Labour’s three-line-whip on Theresa May’s silly, 130-something-word Article 50 Bill extends only to its second reading, next Wednesday.

There will then follow three days of scrutiny-by-committee, when Labour will attempt to provide a shape to the Brexit process that has, so far, eluded the entire Parliamentary Conservative Party, despite its members’ best efforts.

Labour will seek to add a series of amendments, including one that will secure the status of EU citizens living in the UK, which This Writer knows has been of concern to many people. Harriet Harman submitted this amendment.

And the party will seek to ensure that Parliament has the final say on any exit deal proposed by Theresa May and her cronies, ensuring that they cannot simply force their own selfish desires on the rest of us.

Whether the vote on the third and final reading of the Bill will be whipped or not has not been revealed. My guess is that we won’t know until Labour’s success – or failure – in getting its amendments onto the Bill has been established.

To be honest, Mr Corbyn’s announcement, in his statement on Jo Stevens’s resignation, comes as a relief to This Writer. He said: “We have said all along that Labour will not frustrate the triggering of Article 50 and to that end we are asking all MPs to vote for the Bill at its second reading next week.”

This indicates that the row that erupted after he was quoted as saying, “It will be a clear decision that we want all of our MPs to support the article 50 vote when it comes up next week. It’s clearly a three-line whip,” has been whipped up irresponsibly by the press. The Guardian‘s article – from which I took that comment – is, at the time of writing, extremely confused as it seems to be saying both that MPs are expected to vote the Bill through at all three readings and that only the second reading will be whipped (according to Cat Smith’s tweet, which has been added since the report was first published, it seems).

The fact that Ms Smith at first argued against the whip suggests there was a certain amount of confusion and the reason for that is not clear.

Of course, there is also the fact that This Writer argued very strongly in favour of what Labour appeared to be doing when we all thought the plan was to approve the Article 50 Bill. You may be surprised, Dear Reader, to learn that Yr Obdt Srvt makes no apology for what was written.

I still think those arguments are valid, to be honest; perhaps more so than yesterday.

Voting in favour of the Bill at second reading means Labour can say it has supported the will of the electorate, as provided in the referendum result.

If the Conservatives block Labour’s (and the SNP’s, and anybody else’s) reasonable amendments, then Labour will be able to argue that it is the government that is frustrating the Brexit process – and therefore the will of the people – by trying to force the UK to accept departure from the European Union on terms that will harm the general public, either financially or in terms of their quality of life.

That would allow Labour to vote against the Bill, while still being able to say its members support the will of the people.

As for why the confusion arose in the first place – I don’t think we can rule out the possibility of mischief by right-wing, anti-Corbyn members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and/or certain members of the press. The origin of that original comment by Mr Corbyn needs to be clarified. Does anybody know exactly what was said, where and when he said it, and whether he said anything else? Because I don’t.

In fact, I think I might get in touch with the Labour leadership directly. I’ll let you know what response I get, if any.

Clearly the Labour leadership needs to be much sharper on this subject. If mischievous elements are determined to confuse matters, then perhaps it is time to start putting out information before it becomes available to rank-and-file members of the PLP – press releases saying what the leadership intends to put before the members, rather than waiting until after members have discussed the matters in hand.

Wouldn’t that stop malcontents from muddying the issues?

Yesterday’s decision was to support the Bill at second reading only, in a vote next Wednesday.

That will be followed by three days of line-by-line scrutiny in a Bill committee, at which Labour will attempt to shape the Brexit process – before a final vote, called third reading.

Most important, it is demanding a “meaningful vote” in Parliament on the final Brexit deal – early enough for Ms May to seek better terms if hers are rejected by MPs.

Its amendment states: “The consent of Parliament would be required before the deal is referred to the European Council and Parliament.”

Source: Labour may oppose Article 50 Bill if amendments rejected, Diane Abbott says

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