Are shadow ministers right to threaten rebellion over Article 50?

Frontbenchers Clive Lewis and Tulip Siddiq are understood to be considering resigning in protest [Image: Rex, Sarah Lee].

In a word, no.

The United Kingdom is still – despite the best efforts of the Conservative Party -a democracy, and the EU referendum result was a direct reflection of the will of the people.

Jeremy Corbyn is a supporter of democracy – and every other Labour MP should be, as well.

So Labour must support the departure of the UK from the European Union.

Yes, there are arguments about whether the vote is valid, based on the claims made by supporters of both sides, and on the number of people who voted, and on who-knows-what else. I’m sorry, but they don’t matter.

A vote was taken. Everybody knew the rules. In fact, the vote in Parliament is an enforcement of the rules on the Conservative Government: Referenda in the UK are only advisory and Parliament must support any changes mandated by them.

Again, in practice, this means that Parliament must support the will of the people. Otherwise MPs will be labelled undemocratic.

That is what Clive Lewis and Tulip Siddiq are risking. And that is why Jeremy Corbyn cannot let them have their way. And if they resign, they will strengthen his position as a champion of the people’s will.

This is not a free vote; MPs’ hands are tied by the decision of the people.

I read a comment on Facebook, speculating on what the result would be if a polling company asked whether Mr Corbyn is right to impose a three-line whip.

The author (rightly, in my opinion) concluded that no polling company would ask such a question, because the resultant swell of support for Mr Corbyn would undo all the work that has been done by right-wingers to undermine him.

We have Tory candidates in the Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central by-elections claiming that Labour’s position on Brexit is undemocratic in any case; Mr Lewis and Ms Siddiq seem hell-bent on proving them right.

That’s not the way.

Labour MPs must approve Article 50 and approve our departure from the EU. And then they must fight the Tories, tooth and claw, over the manner of that departure.

Jeremy Corbyn will impose a three-line whip on MPs to vote in favour of triggering article 50 when the bill comes before parliament next week, with frontbenchers Clive Lewis and Tulip Siddiq understood to be considering resigning in protest.

Several shadow cabinet ministers are understood to have argued for a free vote, given the difference of opinion in the party, during a tense shadow cabinet meeting.

Source: Article 50: Labour MPs consider resigning over Corbyn’s three-line whip | Politics | The Guardian

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53 thoughts on “Are shadow ministers right to threaten rebellion over Article 50?

  1. Neilth

    Alternatively MPs are representatives of their constituents and regardless of their own opinions should reflect the views of their constituents. Thus, democratically, those MPs whose constituents voted remain should also vote remain. I have said before that I think Corbyn would be wrong to impose a whip on this. It will cause unnecessary drama in the party and give Corbyns opponents another rod to beat him with. Jeremy has a long history of defying the whip himself so he has again shots himself in the foot.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      No – a referendum is run on a national basis. The people of the whole country vote, and it is the whole country’s decision.
      Thus, democratically, what goes on in individual constituencies is neither here nor there. Individual constituencies cannot exempt themselves from the decision that was made.

      1. David

        Your assumption would be correct if the referendum was lagally binding. In that case I would have agreed with you. But we all know it was not.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        No. It is irrelevant because no argument about the referendum itself will make a blind bit of difference, for reasons I already stated and you should, therefore, know – if you’ve been paying attention.

      3. Dan

        Are the reasons you refer to another repetition of May’s marvellous mantra of “the will of the people”?!
        They hold no water outside of the idiot bubble.
        We have a representative democracy and this was an advisory referendum.
        You might argue that the people are stupid and don’t understand how these things work, but that would be no less patronising than suggesting that people didn’t know what they were voting for.
        Or you might argue that David Cameron made it absolutely clear that the result of the referendum would be implemented and that he is such a paragon of virtue and integrity that despite the whole of both campaigns being constructed from lies built upon lies, that we should take that one point as the gospel truth…

        An MP’s duty is to vote for what he thinks is best for the county. If the speeches last week were representative of the House, then well over half of them have derelicted their duties because they have abandoned principles in favour of populism.
        Parliament is both morally and constitutionally bankrupt, and digging itself in deeper.

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        No, those weren’t the reasons. Much of your comment is, therefore, void.
        Try looking up the information before bashing off a knee-jerk reaction.

      5. Martin

        What you say is wrong, Mike.

        If the results of a national referendum determined policy it would by its nature circumvent parliament altogether, which the supreme court has ruled is not legal. Only parliament can decide what happens legislatively and on the biggest national issue since the last world war – leaving the EU – the fullest and most detailed forensic scrutiny and parliamentary debate about the whens and hows of the process should help prevent potentially disastrous mistakes from occurring and catastrophic clangers from being dropped.

        Do we really want Theresa May and David Davies to choose all of the hows and whens as per how the UK disengages from the EU? Just put our faith in such dubious people and give them their head?

        Just parroting “the people have spoken” as if government have been given a dispensation to trigger article 50 when it wants, precipitously, with no clear idea or outline as per what our destination might be, where we actually want to go, and by what means is a recipe for failure.

        Parliament should be involved at every stage.

        Which. of course, isn’t what the Prime Minister and her acolytes least want as they try to remould British society to reflects long held Tory dogma and mores. And, to be honest, proper debate by a host of differently disposed independent MPs would, in my view, lead to a better outcome than anything decided by the various party leaderships, all of whom leave much to be decided in my opinion.

      6. Mike Sivier Post author

        The whole point of the referendum was for the people to decide whether the UK should remain in the EU or leave it. It would be nonsense to suggest, after the vote went a particular way, that it wasn’t.
        I’ve pointed out all along that the referendum was advisory and must be ratified by Parliament, because Parliament has sovereignty. That doesn’t mean Parliament can ignore the will of the people as exercised in the referendum. There would be moral issues, financial issues, and also issues relating to democracy.
        No, we don’t want Theresa May and David Davis choosing the nature of the UK’s disengagement from the EU – and, fortunately, that is not what Labour is proposing. At all. Why are you misrepresenting the position in such a grossly false way?
        I’m glad you go on to say that Parliament should be involved at every stage because that indicates that you do agree with Labour’s position, even though you may not have registered it as such. Why don’t you know that this is Labour’s position? It has been broadcast very clearly – on this blog, which you read, at the very least.

      7. Peter Hepworth

        MPs are not delegates (appointed to follow instructions) but representatives, governed by their judgment as to what is best for their constituents.

      8. Biff Crabbe

        Tulip Siddiq’s reasons for not voting to trigger Article 50 is because in her constituency 75% voted to remain; she understands that the first role of an MP is to represent her constituents’ interests in Westminster rather than to subordinate those interests to the outcome of a wider referendum. By your logic, when the country elects a government formed by one party, opposition MPs should have to vote in favour of all of their policies (because ‘democratically, what goes on in individual constituencies is neither here nor there’).

      9. Mike Sivier Post author

        No, that is not my logic. Yours is faulty. And so was Ms Siddiq’s.
        Don’t try to apply my argument on the referendum – which was a national vote – to a general election, which is carried out constituency-by-constituency. I have made that very clear already and I wonder why you are trying to pretend otherwise.

      10. Neilth

        So a gerrymandered referendum which should arguably have required a 2/3 majority and then excluded EU residents in U.K. And UK residents in Europe also no vote for 16 year olds – all of which applied to the Scottish referendum and which was then fought on a foundation of lies … sorry ‘alternative facts’ should tie all MPs to one line? I think not. Cameron created this chaos due to his arrogant assumptions and incompetence and then he buggered off into the corporate speechifying circuit leaving the rest of us to try to understand exactly what it was that people were trying to tell us. And before some smartarse tries to say Brexit means Brexit many voted against immigration under the delusion that this included refugees and asylum seekers or commonwealth citizens others voted against a capitalist club that favoured big business, still others were voting against straight bananas so no, Brexit does not mean anything and if anything the country deserves to be consulted again once the outcome of negotiations are known.

      11. Mike Sivier Post author

        I’m not saying anything about what should happen after the referendum. I’m saying what is happening, whether we like it or not.

      12. Biff Crabbe

        Mike – if you assert what must happen, as you have, that would seem to encompass what you think should happen. In the Commons debate, several notable speakers who set out powerful cases for the motion also had the political sense and generosity to acknowledge the honourable principles on which some MPs might decide to oppose it. We need collective wisdom, but we’re also going to need some courage.

  2. Joan Edington

    “Labour MPs must approve Article 50 and approve our departure from the EU. And then they must fight the Tories, tooth and claw, over the manner of that departure.”.

    It’s the manner of the departure that is important. Once article 50 has been triggered, as I suppose it must be, despite the vote bing won on lies, there is no going back. Parliament must be given time for a reasonable debate on the manner of departure intended, before the trigger, to avoid any more of the chaos the Tories have caused so far. May is trying to push through a major constitutional change to the whole country, at breakneck speed, as is the usual for Tories who want their own way with no parliamentary scrutiny or debate.

  3. mohandeer

    There must be a way to impeach Ms. May for her total dereliction of duty in this Article 50 debacle. As for those Ministers who have decided that democracy is only for when it suits you, they should be thrown out of the Party for bringing it into disrepute. I voted remain because I believe we would survive better in the trade agreements, but 52% of the voters in Britain across the country, disagreed with me and all of us who voted remain need to respect that majority, however small, or we might as well throw in the towel and settle for despotism.

  4. Neilth

    This referendum was barely won by a majority of those who voted rather than those who were eligible to vote. Interrogating the views of those who voted find a variety of reasons for their choices, hardly decisive. If a national vote decides how MPs should vote then perhaps we can do away with all this democracy nonsense and just have one mp for all the country depending on how we all vote.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      No, because that would require the rest of us to do nothing but consider and vote on Parliamentary issues all day long. That’s the reason we have a representative democracy – to hand the responsibility on to other people, allowing us to do other things (as you know perfectly well). Referenda are special cases when MPs turn a single issue over to the public (as you know perfectly well).

      1. Dan

        No Mike, referenda are special cases where MP’s invite the opinion of the public in order that it be properly taken into consideration.
        Unless, and this bit is important, parliament takes the decision to make the vote binding, in which case it will legislate to that effect.

        Parliament considered that option and emphatically rejected it.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        That’s right. Parliament isn’t supporting the referendum decision because the vote was binding.
        Parliament is supporting it because the Conservatives need to push it through in order to keep their party together, and the Opposition parties don’t have the numbers to stop it.
        I’ve explained this many times now. Are you being deliberately slow on the uptake?

  5. jeffrey davies

    Clive Lewis and Tulip Siddiq are they real or just blairites hmmm who realy wants that magic roundabout were windies 1 and 2 made a mint out of it

  6. David

    At what level should they represent the will of the people? What if the will of their constituents was overwhelmingly remain? They are explicitly expected to vote in the best interests of their constituents on the assumption that MP’s are more aware of the facts and ramifications. That is what we pay them for. If the MP concerned believes that the interests of his/her constituents are best served by voting against, then he/she is duty bound to vote accordingly, but I fear not many will.

  7. Signor tbf


    Quite simply, this was a referendum & was not a general election. So we should not be opposing the triggering of article 50, because it was not official Tory policy to quit the EU, nor was it ours-it’s the vote of the people & it cut across party lines.

    The only arguments that could be used to invalidate the result are if there is evidence of electoral fraud, or the legislation to set this up was illegally drafted etc. and I doubt there’s grounds either way for a legal challenge to stopping the process per se.

    Unless any appear fairly rapidly, Parliament has no business in stopping the triggering, regardless of how anyone’s constituency voted.

  8. Geoff Walker

    I disagree. This will of the people argument is actually the Tyranny of the majority. With such a close result and factoring in that only 71% voted, then it’s only 37% who voted in favour of Leave. The electorate was gerrymandered to remove two groups who were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum – presumably because they might vote Remain. Then I cannot accept the result of an advisory referendum as The will of the people. Every other major representative democracy requires a super majority of, typically 2/3 for major constitutional change, which this is. The extreme Brexiters have another agenda which will impoverish the UK and needs to be resisted.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      This is about keeping Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers happy now – it’s nothing to do with the referendum any more.

  9. Jim Round

    The problem here is the will of the people, if there was a referendum on the death penalty, that would be a vote in favour.
    This is despite all the evidence from the US and elsewhere showing little if any deterrent.
    If there was a vote (you never know, we live in interesting times) and the public were in favour, should Labour go along with it because it’s the will of the people? Where do you draw the line?
    What you have to remember is votes and elections don’t quite always go as some people think. (GE 2015, leave vote, US Election, IDS and the like being elected)
    I still say, and would stand by it by donating a generous sum to charity if I’m wrong, that Labour are facing defeat in the next GE.
    Blame will be scattered about, JC had too many backstabbers, hostile media etc…
    What then for Labour and the left?
    But I do fear now even more for the future of the United Kingdom.

  10. david

    Mike Tulip Siddiq my MP has stated that not only does she feel a need to represent the constituency that voted by a majority to remain – but she also feels that St Theresa / Maggie May is not fully prepared for the likely issues involved with invoking article 50 at the moment – but she has NOT ruled it out when the tories are finally ready. She feels that to invoke article 50 now would be a mistake. If as you suggest all MPs vote article 50 to be invoked [at the earliest opportunity], due to a majority of those that voted wanted to leave – then surely that makes a mockery of a parliamentary vote. Lets just go with what Boris & Co want and screw the result. Surely those that want to push for the best possible brexit should be supported. By the way I voted to leave [on similar ground to how Bob Crowe felt, not on Farage hysteria].

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Nobody is invoking Article 50 next week. Doing so doesnot mean supporting everything the Tories want. See my other articles on this.

  11. Martin

    The answer is: Yes. In this country MPs are elected (and supposed) to represent the constituents who elected them, based on a party manifesto (or sometimes individual manifesto) as MPs committed to realising the promises and pledge in said manifesto and on issues outside the compass of said manifesto to decide matters independently, on behalf of their constituents, not as slavishly passive party political cat’s paws.

    If Corbyn had any sense he would allow Labour MPs to vote on this matter according to their consciences and not try to whip them, dictatorially, into toeing the party line.

    Votes against triggering article 50 would be pyrrhic in nature anyway but allowing Labour MPs to vote against the government’s bill, which has been timetabled to be debated for only three days, I believe, if they chose to would at least allow those with strong feeling to express them honestly and openly and would save further anguish and upset to Labour internally as good and honest men and women feel obliged resign from the shadow cabinet and more feel forced to publicly rebel against the Labour whip in parliament.

    I don’t expect Jezza to do this but we’ll see.

    On such an important issue allowing people to do what THEY think is right rather than being ORDERED to vote for something they are convinced is wrong would, in my opinion, be the kindest and most sensible thing to do.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Nobody who follows Labour’s line on this is a political party’s catspaw. You’d need to prove they were doing slavishly, and it’s a reasonable argument being put forward.

      Labour has a duty to accept the will of the people, but not the will ofthe Tories. So Labour has tabled multiple amendments… you need to read my other articles on this.

      1. Martin

        But what about the wishes of the constituency they represent? Where I live 70% voted to remain in the EU. We voted for an MP who would represent out interests, based on a party manifesto, not to do what they are told blindly by the party leadership about issues not featured in the manifesto. A referendum is advisory not electoral and does not bind any individual MP to toe a party line.

        Corbyn laying down the law will damage Labour’s chances, such as they are, in the area where I live without a doubt.

        It’s such a pity really but I realise that the die has been cast and that the party will be further riven and split over Europe just like the Tories.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        Constituency wishes are not relevant in this matter. We voted as a nation, not as constituencies.
        Why is this so hard for people to understand?
        Where you live – the United Kingdom – nearly 52 per cent voted to leave the EU. That’s the figure that matters. In the referendum, you did not vote for your MP to go against the results if more people in your individual constituency voted the opposite way to the eventual decision. That wasn’t on the ballot paper and therefore you cannot make that argument.
        A referendum is indeed advisory but unless there are very serious problems with it, an MP is obliged to bow to the will of the people as expressed in it.
        Corbyn’s decision – if correctly understood – will improve Labour’s chances. I hope, therefore, that people will understand it. My fear is that many will believe as you do, with no evidence to support the supposition.

      3. Neilth

        Once again we need to discuss alt facts. You’re right that nearly 52% of those who voted, voted leave. This was nowhere near a majority of those eligible to vote. In some constituencies some voted overwhelmingly the other way. If you are saying that the national total is what counts then what follows would be that following an election all MPs should then follow the manifesto of the winning party.

  12. Phil Lee

    MPs are the representatives of their constituents, and MUST be allowed to vote in accordance with the expressed wishes of those constituents.
    That is how a representative democracy works. So the referendum was advisory, but only really when taken constituency by constituency – the overall count doesn’t matter, any more than it counts when deciding who will form the next government.
    Whips should be banned outright, as they interfere with the ability of an MP to properly represent the expressed will of their constituents.
    I thought you were an advocate of democracy (as required by your membership of the Labour party), so I’m surprised to see you arguing that it should be thrown out!
    If you want the overall result taken into account then an outright majority of ALL those eligible to vote in matters of independence and Europe (which would include PR and 16+ ages) MUST be required.
    You can’t have your cake and eat it.
    And you can’t really vote on anything until you know what you are voting for – so far, all we have is hot air.
    Negotiate all the replacements for what we have at the moment on a conditional basis, so that they can be triggered if we agree they are better than what we have now. THEN we can have informed votes either by mandatory referendum of in the HOC.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I’m not saying democracy should be thrown out. I’m saying we should respect a democratic decision, even though I disagree with it.
      I read a comment earlier today saying MPs should ignore the will of their constituents because they are there to represent constituents’ best interests, not just whatever they want. MPs should use their own judgement. That person said THAT is how representative democracy works, and you know what? That person was right.
      The overall count is what matters, of course, as it was a national referendum, not constituency by constituency. A referendum is different from an election.
      Everybody who was entitled to vote had the opportunity.
      There’s an argument that those who did vote legitimized the referendum by doing so, no matter what they were told before or how few preparations the Tories made.

  13. Edmund Burke

    I am sorry I cannot conclude without saying a word on a topic touched upon by my worthy colleague. I wish that topic had been passed by at a time when I have so little leisure to discuss it. But since he has thought proper to throw it out, I owe you a clear explanation of my poor sentiments on that subject.

    He tells you that “the topic of instructions has occasioned much altercation and uneasiness in this city;” and he expresses himself (if I understand him rightly) in favour of the coercive authority of such instructions.

    Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

    My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

    To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,–these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

    Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life: a flatterer you do not wish for.

  14. Peter Hepworth

    It is clear from what we know of Europe’s and the Govt’s position that there is no alternative to a hard Brexit. We are going to waste two years getting nowhere, then be faced by the govt’s threatened ‘clean break’, a social and economic catastrophe. The only way to find out definitively whether this outcome is the ‘will of the people’ will be to hold a second referendum, with the possibility of remaining in the EU. Labour has cut off this route by accepting that the result of the first referendum covers all possible Brexits. I feel that, at the very least, Labour should have taken the position that democracy requires a referendum on the outcome of the negotiations, including the effects of the repeal act.

  15. Tim

    It isn’t necessarily an MP’s job to follow the expressed wishes of a majority of constituents when voting in parliament. But surely they have to represent the interests of their constituents? If an MP thinks that the effect of Brexit will be damaging to the majority of those living in their constituency (not just those who voted for them) they should oppose it. Otherwise what is the point of our kind of representative democracy?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Trouble is, it is entirely possible that Brexit could work very well for the British people!
      Just not with the non-plans the Tories have.
      That’s why Labour – and the SNP, by the way – aims to table many amendments to the Article 50 Bill next week. The aim is to highlight the Tory failures and try to get them corrected.

      1. Private Eye

        It might Mike. However, getting to this point has been a lot of pain for everyone and I would have to ask if it was really worth it.

        There are two things I would like to come of of this if anything.

        The first is politicians being taken apart by journalists and the media when they lie or side-step issues (the NYT recently published “a lie by any other name” about Trump’s alternative facts for instance) and the second is that the rancid, racist and vicious gutter press is also condemned every time it oversteps the bounds of common decency.

        When propaganda is limited and what people say is fact checked and reported then perhaps we stand a chance in a country where so many people and poorly educated (yet think they are well educated) and lack basic critical thinking skills.

      2. Martin

        The fifty amendments thing, which I suppose is supposed to chime rather childishly with the article 50 thing, won’t get anywhere because the bill has only three days allocated to it and will be talked out before anything much can happen. It all depends on the Speaker’s discretion.

  16. Private Eye

    “The United Kingdom is still – despite the best efforts of the Conservative Party -a democracy, and the EU referendum result was a direct reflection of the will of the people.”

    In a non-binding, advisory referendum (this is fact because it is written into British law as such) there is no mandate for parliament to trigger article 50. However, parliament must consider the referendum very seriously.

    We also pay parliament to make smart decisions based on being our representatives, and there are a number of factors that will sway an individual parliamentary voter to a lesser or greater extent depending on that individual.

    a. Party allegiance
    b. Party stance
    c. Consideration of re-election within their constituency
    d. The British media
    e. Personal, strongly held beliefs
    f. The referendum result (which is not a binary decision)
    g. Political and commercial connections outside parliament

    These are the issues that should be applied in any debate.

    Repeating the phrase, “will of the people” is meaningless and vacuous, particularly as it is obvious that the vast majority of the British media was for “leave” and had excessive sway with no ethical internal or external checks.

  17. Peter Hepworth

    I don’t see how the British people could benefit from Brexit. That could only happen under a socialist government, which is not a realistic outcome, certainly not if/when Scotland leaves the UK. As things stand the advantages of legislation, planning, development, etc on a European scale, plus the geographical benefits of local trading make the EU a no-brainer.

  18. Peter Hepworth

    Unless it heralds socialism (a Bennite pipe dream) how can Brexit possibly work for the great majority of the British people?

Comments are closed.