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Jo Stevens resigns from shadow cabinet over Article 50 vote

The shadow secretary for Wales has decided to defy the 3-line whip "as a matter of conscience". 

Jo Stevens, the MP for Cardiff Central, has resigned in order to vote against the Article 50 bill.

The shadow secretary for Wales believes leaving the European Union would still be "a terrible mistake", according to The Guardian.

While some of her colleagues had fallen into line after the Labour leadership imposed a three-line whip, Stevens was torn about the decision. 

She wrote to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that her vote would be "the most important" she would ever cast and that was an issue "of principle and conscience". Here are the crucial paragraphs:

I accept the referendum result is to leave.

I also accept that the parliamentary numbers are such that Article 50 will be triggered and we will leave the EU. But I believe that leaving is a terrible mistake and I cannot reconcile my overwhelming view that to endorse the step that will make exit inevitable, is wrong. I expect this to be the most important vote I will ever cast as an MP and for me it is a clear issue of principle and conscience. 

In response, Corbyn thanked Stevens, who he called "a great asset" to the Labour party. 

“I understand the difficulties that Jo, and other MPs, have when facing the Article 50 Bill. Those MPs with strong Remain constituencies are understandably torn," he said.

“However, it is right that the Labour Party respects the outcome of the referendum on leaving the European Union. 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."

Stevens' constituency was pro-Remain, although Wales as a whole voted to leave the European Union. She said she did not wish to cause difficulty for the Labour leadership, but that Wales was a net beneficiary of the EU and she did not trust the Conservative government to protect it in Brexit negotiations.

Her resignation follows that of Tulip Siddiq, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, who said she had "no choice" but to leave her position as shadow early years minister.

Another shadow minister Daniel Zeichner, has also said he will vote against Article 50. You can find the full list of Labour MPs voting against the bill here.

Jo Stevens' letter to Jeremy Corbyn in full:

Dear Jeremy,

I write following the decision at yesterday’s shadow cabinet to impose a three line whip to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.

I am a passionate European. With Cardiff Central Labour Party members I campaigned strongly to remain. I voted to remain. My constituency and my city voted by a significant majority to remain. David Cameron recklessly and unsuccessfully gambled our country’s safety, future prosperity and longstanding European and wider international relationships solely to save the Tory Party and his premiership from imploding.

Theresa May is now leading our country towards a brutal exit with all the damage that will cause to the people and communities we represent. There have been no guarantees before triggering Article 50 about protecting single market access, employment, environmental and consumer rights, security and judicial safeguards and the residency rights of many of my constituents. And no guarantees for the people of Wales. Article 50 should not be triggered without these safeguards in place.

I accept the referendum result is to leave.  

I also accept that the parliamentary numbers are such that Article 50 will be triggered and we will leave the EU. But I believe that leaving is a terrible mistake and I cannot reconcile my overwhelming view that to endorse the step that will make exit inevitable, is wrong. I expect this to be the most important vote I will ever cast as an MP and for me it is a clear issue of principle and conscience. When I vote I will be representing my constituents, a great many of whom, including a great many Labour Party members and voters, have strongly urged me to vote in this way. That is why, in Shadow Cabinet, I argued against the imposition of a three line whip.

And I know that you, more than any other member of the current Parliamentary Labour Party, will understand that feeling so strongly about such a critical issue, means I must follow my principles and my conscience, even where that conflicts with the Party’s whip in Parliament.

Keir Starmer and our shadow Brexit team have worked incredibly hard to map a path through this difficult issue and period, constructively and respectfully, for all colleagues. I certainly do not wish to cause difficulty for you, my Shadow Cabinet colleagues and the Parliamentary Party. I respect and understand the views of each of my colleagues and their reasons for reaching those views. I feel however, that I must make my position clear in advance of the Second Reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill as I will vote against it on this timetable, with no guaranteed safeguards in place, with its inevitable consequences.

It is with deep regret that this inevitably means I must resign from the Shadow Cabinet. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as your Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the country where I was born, bred, work and live. In carrying out that role, it reinforced even more strongly to me, what Wales will lose from exiting the EU without the guarantees that are needed and without a seat at the negotiating table for the people of Wales. We are net beneficiaries of EU funding. Over two thirds of our exports are to the EU. It is a lifeline to our manufacturing industry in steel, automotive and aerospace as well as to our farming and food production sector. I do not believe that we can rely on a Conservative government to protect Wales.  I will continue to work hard on behalf of my constituents and with you and our colleagues to hold the government to account during the negotiations so that we ensure the terms of any agreements eventually reached by the Government, are in the national interest. 

Thank you for the opportunity to serve under your leadership, both in your shadow cabinet and previously as shadow justice minister and shadow solicitor general. Throughout my period on the front bench I have always sought to promote unity across our Party and I wish you, my successor and the whole of the Shadow Cabinet the very best in leading our Party through this most critical period.

Yours in comradeship,
Jo

 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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