LONDON — Over 5,000 Labour Party members have signed a petition calling on Jeremy Corbyn to reverse the party’s Brexit policy and oppose the triggering of Article 50.
The petition was launched by the Labour Against Brexit group on Friday. It has been signed by thousands of grassroots supporters who are dismayed by the party’s pledge to not stand in the way of Theresa May initiating Britain’s formal exit from the European Union.
Corbyn has said that Labour will “respect” the referendum result by not blocking Article 50 but will seek to push through a number of amendments, including protection for workers rights and unfiltered access to the European single market.
However, whether the party will be successful in securing these amendments remains to be seen.
The letter accuses Corbyn of failing to defend “socialist values” and says Brexit will harm working people more than any other group in British society. It comes as members of the Labour’s shadow front bench are considering resigning after Corbyn imposed a three-line-whip on his MPs instructing them to vote in favour of the Brexit bill currently being debated in Parliament. Jo Stevens MP stepped down over the weekend, while a handful of shadow front benchers are set to vote against the bill, including Clive Lewis, Rachel Maskell, and whips Thangam Debbonaire and Jeff Smith.
Labour Against Brexit chair Jonathan Proctor of the North Tyneside constituency Labour party is coordinating the petition. Speaking to Business Insider on Wednesday, he said that he was “heartbroken” by his party’s current stance on Brexit and that Labour should be “the voice of the 48%.”
“We started to write this letter to Jeremy [Corbyn] last Friday and by Monday over 5,000 people had signed it,” Proctor, who has campaigned for Labour in multiple elections since joining the party five years ago, told us.
“We’ve had hundreds of emails and messages of support from people wanting to get involved. We believe that this [triggering Article 50] shouldn’t be the policy of the Labour Party. We need to be the voice of the 48%.”
He revealed that and the group’s vice chair Emma Brennan have received messages of support from pro-Remain Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw, Neil Coyle, and Mike Grapes among others, along with hundreds upon hundreds of Labour supporters.
“We believe that triggering Article 50 goes against everything that this party has ever stood for,” Proctor said.
“This party protects society’s most vulnerable and we are their voice. We will not be able to protect these people if we trigger Article 50. We honestly do not believe that after triggering Article 50 we will be able to protect worker rights, environmental protections and security measures that have all been enshrined in EU law. The government says it will be able to but we’ve seen nothing in the Great Repeal Bill that makes us think it will actually be able to.
“I hold my party very dear to my heart and it’s breaking my heart seeing my party do this.”
We asked him whether he would ever consider ditching the party if Corbyn refuses to change his policy of supporting the triggering of Article 50. “No no no. This is only making us more determined than ever,” he said.
“We have a strategy in place. The next campaign we are going to do will involve taking our motion to constituency Labour parties. We are going to inspire debate about Brexit up and down the country. We’re also going to try and get a motion sent to conference. Last year we voted that we were pro-Europeans. Well, we want that enshrined in our party’s constitution that we don’t support leaving the EU.
“We’ve been working quite closely with the parliamentary group Britain for Europe. If the government does trigger Article 50 — which we hope they won’t — we will still be encouraging debate and discussion. We will expect MPs to come back to their constituencies and explain why backed Article 50 and then we can have discussions.
“The Express described me as the person going against democracy. But I feel that if the Express and the Mail are having a go at me then I must be doing something right.”
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