Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West defends rebel vote
- Credit: Archant
Catherine West has defended her decision to back a rebel backbench motion to keep Britain in the EU after being sacked from Labour’s frontbench.
As reported in the Ham&High, Jeremy Corbyn sacked Ms West from her role as shadow Foreign Office Minister yesterday after she voted against the Labour party in favour of an amendment to the Queen’s speech calling for Britain to remain in the single market and customs union.
Her fellow frontbenchers – shadow housing ministers Andy Slaughter and Ruth Cadbury – also lost their positions yesterday after backing the amendment tabled by pro-Remain MP Chuka Umunna.
Speaking to the Ham&High the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green said: “This was closest to how my constituents wanted me to vote.
“It’s important parliamentarians don’t break the bonds they have with their constituents.”
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Mr Ummuna’s Queen’s Speech amendment went further than the position outlined in Labour’s manifesto.
Streatham MP Mr Ummuna wanted to keep the country in the EU if Theresa May’s government failed to negotiate a deal and outline proposals to stay in the customs union and single market.
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Labour had tabled its own amendment calling for a deal to give the UK the same benefits as the single market and the customs union.
“I voted for the Labour amendment and Chukka Ummuna’s although the Labour amendment didn’t mention membership of the single market and customs union,” Ms West said.
In total 49 Labour MPs defied the whip to vote in favour of the amendment, which was defeated by 322 votes to 101, a majority of 221.
The rebel Labour MPs were joined by 34 SNP MPs, 12 Liberal Democrats, the four Plaid Cymru MPs, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Independent MP Lady Hermon.
Ms West was appointed to the frontbench following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader in 2015.
“I stepped into the breach during a different time. I feel now that the party is in a good position. I’m not needed quite as much which means Labour is doing better.
“I don’t see it as a personal thing. Nobody has a god-given right to have a job in shadow government.
“When you are looking to be the prime minister you need to have a system in place to keep MPs following party lines.
“If you don’t vote in the way the party feels, you shouldn’t be on the front bench,” she said before describing how Labour whips were in touch with her within an hour of the vote.
In last year’s referendum 50-year-old Ms West championed remaining within the EU, a position backed by 82 per cent of her constituents– the highest in the country.
“Many of my constituents are finding it hard to come to terms with the idea of a hard Brexit that doesn’t reflect our best interests.
“In a negotiation it’s important to leave as much on the table.
“Membership of the customs union and single market should be as much on the table as possible.
“The message kept coming back that people are really, really worried about what will happen to their jobs, work opportunities and the risks to the economy.
“I wanted to clearly reflect people’s views and my constituents’ strong vote last summer.”
Asked if the amendment vote had backfired and left the way clear for a harder Brexit, Ms West said it was important to express different levels of support on Europe.
“There are people who feel very strongly that we should not even be leaving. With a hundred MPs voting for that amendment it was showing support for a pro-European stance, trying to keep things as similar as we possibly can to what we have now.
“That position is really important. That’s what people feel, particularly in London.”
On her future, Ms West confirmed her work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on UK and EU relations would continue “to make sure bridges are not burnt”.
And speaking about her shadow frontbench experience she added: “I really enjoyed my role. I’m sure there will be somebody to replace me and I’m looking forward to supporting that person with the handover.”
The keen swimmer added she was looking forward to forming an All-Party Parliamentary Group to promote the sport as well as continuing with her surgeries and constituency diary.