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". 

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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.