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16 July 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 2:30pm

Labour MPs who want a Brexit deal are in a mess of their own making

By Patrick Maguire

Could Labour backbenchers help the next prime minister deliver a no-deal Brexit? Sarah Champion, the MP for Rotherham, has revealed she would sooner see the UK leave the EU without an agreement than see Article 50 revoked. 

Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Live, Champion – who voted against the withdrawal agreement three times – said she had reconciled herself to no deal because “we have to leave”, and to that end refused to rule out voting against a no confidence motion tabled by Jeremy Corbyn. 

Her insistence that Brexit must happen is, to put it mildly, curiously timed. Those Labour MPs who ended up voting Theresa May’s deal on one of the three occasions it was put before them had expected Champion to eventually join them: not only because her South Yorkshire constituency vote heavily to Leave in 2016, but also due to the healthy contingent of Brexiteers in her constituency party and on its executive. 

Questioned on that glaring contradiction between her current position and her voting record by a bemused panel this afternoon, she insisted that her failure to vote for the withdrawal agreement was in fact the fault of the Prime Minister for failing to offer Labour MPs the concessions they had wanted on workers’ rights and environmental protections, among other things, and compared it – unwisely – to a game of poker.

Quite how you can square not voting for a negotiated Brexit for fear of losing those protections with acquiescing to the very outcome that would wipe them from the statute book at a stroke is another question, but ultimately it is one that Labour MPs like Champion have forced themselves to confront. In the absence of a new opportunity to vote for a deal – which, on the evidence both Tory leadership candidates provided at last night’s final debate, will not be forthcoming – those who wished they had taken the three they have already been given face a choice between no Brexit or its most damaging form.

Until now, the evidence suggested that most of the 30 or so Labour MPs who favoured a deal would in that scenario back the revocation of Article 50: Lisa Nandy is among those to have made the case for doing so as a last resort publicly. Thus far only Champion and Caroline Flint are the only converts to have expressed a preference for the more destructive route, also backed by Dennis Skinner, Ronnie Campbell and Kate Hoey. Team Johnson, already bullish about their chances of getting no-deal past the Commons, will be hoping more follow.

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