Jeremy Corbyn ‘in bed with Theresa May’ over Brexit, Vince Cable says

Jeremy Corbyn ‘in bed with Theresa May’ over Brexit, Vince Cable says

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​​​​​​​Jeremy Corbyn is “in bed with Theresa May”, Sir Vince Cable told me after the end of voting on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in the Commons.

On Brexit, he meant, of course.

The Liberal Democrat leader claims the Labour leader wasted an opportunity to defeat the government.

If day one of this week’s voting on the Brexit bill was all about the Conservative split on the so-called “meaningful vote”, day two was about Labour disarray.

A total of 89 of the party’s 257 MPs ignored Mr Corbyn’s orders to abstain from voting either for or against a demand to prioritise European Economic Area (EEA) membership in Brexit negotiations.

They included six Labour MPs who quit junior frontbench roles minutes before the vote so they could rebel. The amendment was defeated by 327 to 126, with a big government majority of 201.

But the disarray didn’t end there.

Even the rebels were split, with 74 voting in favour of the Lords amendment – which called for the government to pursue the so-called “Norway Model” membership – and 15 against it.

Don’t hold your breath, however.

The frontbenchers who quit were not big names, but mostly young MPs who are relatively new to the Commons. Not even household names in their own home, you might say.

They were:

:: Laura Smith, who captured Crewe and Nantwich from the Tories by just 48 votes last year and was said by fellow Labour MPs to be worried about her tiny majority

:: Ged Killen, who won Rutherglen and Hamilton West from the SNP with a majority of just 265 votes

:: Ellie Reeves, a Remain campaigner who is the sister of Labour MP Rachel and married to the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, John Cryer MP

:: Tonia Antoniazzi, who captured the South Wales seat of Gower from the Tories last year and is the daughter of Italian immigrants who make ice cream and run a chain of cafes

:: Anna McMorrin, who won Cardiff North from the Conservatives last year and is also a big Remain backer

:: Rosie Duffield, who pulled off the shock Labour gain in Canterbury last year, overturning 176 years of Tory representation in the seat.

It isn’t just Sir Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats who are accusing Mr Corbyn of wasting an opportunity to inflict a defeat on the government over Brexit.

The same charge was made by Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray, a former shadow cabinet member and now a leading pro-Remain campaigner.

“For the Labour frontbench to abstain on this crucial issue was a dereliction of duty,” he said.

“Future generations will ask us why we didn’t do more for the workers we represent.”

Mr Corbyn says he understands MPs representing constituencies which voted strongly for Leave or Remain had difficulties on the EEA amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

But his order for his MPs to abstain will dismay many pro-Remain party activists and was never going to be accepted by large numbers of his backbenchers.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has bravely tried to steer a credible path on Brexit and in particular the big issues like the single market and the customs union.

But his amendment rejecting the EEA and proposing “full access to the internal market of the EU” was a messy fudge that was too much for many Labour MPs to swallow.

And Sir Keir’s contributions to the debates in the Commons this week have been low key and made little impact.

He has even left some of the important speeches to junior members of his frontbench team, such as the impressive Matthew Pennycook.

It has been the big hitters on Labour’s backbenches – the shadow shadow cabinet of such as Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper, Pat McFadden and others – who have led the fight against the Tories.

At the Hay Festival 10 days ago, the former Labour foreign secretary David Miliband said Mr Corbyn “should not be the midwife for a hard Brexit”.

Whether he’s the midwife, as Mr Miliband fears, or in bed with the prime minister, as Sir Vince Cable claims, Mr Corbyn has made Theresa May’s task a whole lot easier.

(c) Sky News 2018: Jeremy Corbyn ‘in bed with Theresa May’ over Brexit, Vince Cable says