Labour MP Diane Abbott is facing mounting pressure to vote against triggering Article 50 – the official notification to quit the European Union – following Jeremy Corbyn’s edict not to block the move.
The issue is likely to be highly uncomfortable for her since the constituency she represents, Hackney North and Stoke Newington, voted overwhelmingly for remaining in the EU.
Hackney had a higher proportion of Remain voters than almost anywhere else, with 78 per cent of electors in the borough casting their ballots for staying in the bloc.
The Liberal Democrats locally sought this week to capitalise on this disjuncture by castigating Abbott for her apparent stance.
Joe Richards, the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said today: “Not only is Diane Abbott shamefully not listening to the voice of her constituency, she is also endangering jobs in London by being particularly vague about any commitment to the single market.
“40 percent of the world’s largest 250 companies choose London for their European or global headquarters, almost half citing access to Europe as the core reason for investing.”
Interviewed earlier this month by Andrew Neil on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, Abbott confirmed: “We will not work to block it [Article 50].”
She added: “We’re parliamentarians. What we have to do is scrutinise what they [the government] are doing. There are too many questions that are unanswered – for instance, the position of millions of EU migrants living and working in this country.”
Asked what she would do if the answers to these questions were not forthcoming from the government before the Article 50 issue came before Parliament, Abbott replied: “We are going to amend it. We can only tell you exactly how we’ll amend it when we understand what sort of legislation the government is bringing forward.
“And in the course of moving those amendments, we will ask the questions that the people of Britain actually – whether they voted Leave or Remain – want answered.”
Critics accuse Abbott of only voting for the measure to preserve her shadow cabinet position.
Meg Hillier, the Labour MP for the borough’s other constituency – Hackney South and Shoreditch – has not responded to a request from the Hackney Citizen to declare which way she will vote on the issue.
She has previously indicated she may join with rebel Labour MPs such as Hampstead and Kilburn’s Tulip Siddiq in voting against the measure, acknowledging recently that her constituents were outraged that Labour was backing the vote.
“The rage in the room was palpable,” she is reported to have said of a recent constituency meeting, adding that people did not want “a blank cheque” on exiting the EU.
Theresa May had planned to trigger Article 50 by the end of March this year, but the Supreme Court put a spanner in the works by ruling that the government could not use royal prerogative powers and Parliament must have its say.
Article 50 is the official “divorce process” part of the Lisbon Treaty governing how EU member states may quit the bloc.
The process, which has never been enacted by any country before, would entail a two-year window during which there would be negotiations between the EU and the UK about the pair’s future relationship.
While the majority of Labour MPs were in favour of staying in the EU and the party officially backed Remain, most Labour MPs represent constituencies that voted Leave.