Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has sacked three MPs from his frontbench for voting to keep Britain inside the European Union’s Single Market and Customs Union.Andy Slaughter and Ruth Cadbury, shadow ministers for housing, and Catherine West, a shadow foreign minister, were booted from the 68-year-old’s frontbench team for backing an amendment to the Queen’s Speech lodged by Remain campaigner Chuka Umunna.
Umunna’s amendment sought to “rule out withdrawal from the EU without a deal, guarantee a parliamentary vote on any final outcome to negotiations, [and] set out proposals to remain within the Customs Union and Single Market”, amongst other measures.
Both Corbyn and his Marxist shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have committed to leaving the Single Market, recognising that remaining party to the Free Movement immigration regime associated with it would be interpreted as “not respecting [the EU] referendum”, and instructed their MPs to vote against the amendment.
Nevertheless, the three ministers joined 49 other Labour MPs in supporting the amendment anyway, as Corbyn had failed to take action following previous rebellions – but this time they paid the price.
The move earned praise from Brexit campaign leader Nigel Farage, who said Corbyn was showing his “true Brexit colours”.
Prior to his election as Labour leader, Corbyn was a fierce opponent of the European project throughout his entire political career. He voted to leave the EEC in 1975, against the Maastricht Treaty which transformed it into the European Union in 1992, and against the Lisbon Treaty which handed it sweeping new powers in 2007.
He told colleagues that Maastricht “takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers” during a Commons debate in 1993.
As recently as 2015, he was denouncing the bloc’s treatment of Greece, musing that if the country left “both the eurozone and the EU, its future would be uncertain, but at least it could be its own”.
He added that, in his view, there was “no future for a usurious Europe that turns its smaller nations into colonies of debt peonage”.
He has also alleged that the bloc is “directly responsible” for “the gross abuse of human rights and theft of natural resources” in Africa through its foreign policy, and criticised its trade and agricultural policies as “morally wrong”.
Senior Labour Remainers suggested the Labour leader intentionally held back from making a truly serious effort to canvas support for the EU during the referendum, with leaked emails revealing allegations of “deliberate sabotage” by his office.
Corbyn did occasionally seem to be at cross-purposes with the wider Remain campaign, with his rubbishing of former Chancellor George Osborne’s claim – later proved false – that a Leave vote would trigger a “year-long recession” appearing particularly unhelpful to its credibility.