War over Labour rebels who hold the key

Labour MPs were last night at the heart of an extraordinary tug of war as Boris Johnson tried to love-bomb them into backing his Brexit deal.The support of just a handful of Labour rebels could unlock victory for the Prime Minister in this afternoon’s knife-edge Commons vote.Mr Johnson and his ministers spent yesterday telephoning MPs…

Labour MPs were last night at the heart of an extraordinary tug of war as Boris Johnson tried to love-bomb them into backing his Brexit deal.

The support of just a handful of Labour rebels could unlock victory for the Prime Minister in this afternoon’s knife-edge Commons vote.

Mr Johnson and his ministers spent yesterday telephoning MPs on all sides in a last-minute bid to woo them.

Among those reaching out to opposition MPs was Health Secretary Matt Hancock. It is understood Downing Street last night offered Labour MPs a sweetener on workers’ rights in a bid to persuade them to come on board.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ministers spent yesterday telephoning MPs on all sides in a last-minute bid to woo them 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was among ministers reaching out to opposition MPs

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill will include a legally binding commitment for MPs to get a vote on whether to follow suit every time the EU introduces new employment measures.

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The UK has a long and proud tradition of leading the way in workers’ rights and environmental protections, where we have always set a high standard. We recognise that MPs want to see these hard-won rights protected, not weakened by our departure from the EU, and we are happy to ensure this is the case.’

Downing Street has also pledged that there will be a ‘parliamentary lock’ where MPs get a vote on the Government’s objectives when it comes to negotiating a future partnership with the EU.

Former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt has also been assisting efforts to persuade MPs.

Gareth Snell MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central (left). Laura Smith MP for Crewe and Nantwich (right) 

 Caroline Flint MP for Don Valley (left). Justin Madders MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston (right) 

Seven Labour MPs – Jim Fitzpatrick, Sir Kevin Barron, Sarah Champion, Melanie Onn, John Mann, Graham Stringer and Ronnie Campbell – have publicly declared their intention to back the deal. And Rosie Cooper and Caroline Flint are expected to do the same after previously supporting Theresa May’s deal.

A further 13 are considering such a move. However, Momentum founder Jon Lansman, who sits on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), yesterday threatened Labour backbenchers with deselection if they vote for a deal. In an effort to turn the thumbscrews on potential rebels, he tweeted: ‘Labour MPs cannot and must not vote for [Mr Johnson’s deal].

‘If they do, the NEC will have no choice but to replace them with a new, socialist Labour candidate at the next election.’

Rosie Cooper MP for West Lancashire (left). Gloria De Piero MP for Ashfield (right) 

Huda Elmi, another NEC member, added: ‘Any Labour MP that sides with Boris Johnson has no right to stand at the next election.’

In a letter to all Labour MPs last night, Mr Corbyn urged his backbenchers to reject ‘this sell-out deal [that] won’t bring this country together’.

But a Labour spokesman insisted rebels were not being threatened with the removal of the whip or deselection. Downing Street was last night optimistic it would more than double the five Labour MPs that supported Mrs May’s Brexit deal in March.

Grahame Morris MP for Easington (left). Stephen Kinnock MP for Aberavon (right) 

Miss Onn, who represents Great Grimsby, yesterday urged her colleagues not to risk ‘this final shot at a deal [slipping] through our fingers’ as she became the latest Labour MP to publicly declare their support.

In a joint article with Tory Victoria Prentis, published in the Guardian, she pleaded with them to ‘use this unique chance to help us move this on, and get back to helping our constituents’. ‘Our collective hope rests on brave Labour MPs, and indeed others, who can see that,’ the pair added.

Meanwhile, Labour veteran Ronnie Campbell revealed the behind-the-scenes pressure being exerted on MPs by Mr Corbyn and other senior members of the party, as they attempted to convince rebels to abstain rather than vote for the PM’s deal.

 Ruth Smeeth MP for Stoke-on-Trent North (left). Stephanie Peacock MP for Barnsley East (right) 

He said, as well as the leader, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and party chairman Ian Lavery had been in contact since his declaration of support for the withdrawal agreement on Thursday. But the Blyth MP said their attempts had been unsuccessful. ‘I think you’ve got to grasp the straw yourself and get this sorted one way or another,’ he told the BBC.

‘I appreciate people being 100 per cent Remain but I’m 100 per cent Leave and always have been,’ he added.

On Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell, he said: ‘I’ve been comrades with them for 30 years. [When I] voted against Maastricht, the Lisbon Treaty, the Dublin Treaty and all the other treaties… who was with me in the lobbies at that particular time? Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.’

Dan Jarvis MP for Barnsley Central (left). John Cruddas MP for Dagenham and Rainham (right)

brexit countdown_bgCreated with Sketch.

Mr Campbell said his concerns over the future of workers’ rights under the Brexit terms had been satisfied by a government promise to MPs that Parliament will vote on any proposed changes.

‘I understand that there is going to be something put forward that anything [on] workers rights has to come back to Parliament,’ he added. ‘We will wait and see whether that materialises and if the Tories agree to it. If they do, I’ll be happy on that.’

The North East politician said as many as 12 people from the Labour benches could cross the floor. ‘To hazard a guess, I think there could be at least 12 Labour MPs who would vote for the deal,’ the MP said, adding: ‘[The PM] would want at least 20 to get it through but where we get the other ones from I do not know.’

DUP leaders refuse to budge

The DUP was defiant in its opposition to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal last night, despite the architect of the Good Friday Agreement giving his backing to the plan.

The former first minister of Northern Ireland, David Trimble, said the Prime Minister’s deal was ‘a great step forward’ and ‘fully in accordance with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement’. The unionists had said on Thursday that the deal ‘drove a coach and horses’ through the agreement.

Mr Trimble, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the agreement, had previously been critical of Theresa May’s backstop plan.

But his intervention failed to sway DUP leaders, with the party’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson saying: ‘I can give you absolute assurance we will not be voting for this deal when it comes before the Commons.’

Lord Trimble, who sits as a Tory peer, said now was ‘not the time to be looking for excuses not to implement either the Good Friday Agreement or the new deal’.

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