Labour MPs have torn into the decision not to hold a meaningful Brexit debate at this year’s party conference, with one of Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbenchers branding it “strange”.
Party members did not back voting on the issue at its conference in Brighton, with the Corbyn-supporting movement Momentum asking its supporters not to include Brexit in a list of “priority” motions.
When news of the decision filtered through to delegates gathered at a fringe rally meeting of the centrist pressure group Progress, delegates shouted out “shame” and began booing.
The row came just hours after Labour’s election chief Andrew Gwynne told HuffPost UK rows over Brexit could tear the party in two.
Shadow City Minister Jonathan Reynolds was one of a number of MPs to speak out against the decision.
“It’s never good when the party just starts talking amongst itself rather than to the country and I have to say to not be discussing Brexit seems at least a strange decision,” he said.
Wirral South MP Alison McGovern expressed her frustration, by saying: “It’s disappointing that the biggest issue for our country hasn’t made it to the priority ballot.
“I worry that it’s going to mean that our party doesn’t have a chance to debate properly one of the biggest issues going on that underpins everything else that we might want to do.”
Former Cabinet Minister Ben Bradshaw urged activists to take the streets to change Labour’s current policy and “stop a chaotic hard Brexit.”
He added: “If you feel as frustrated and angry as I do that the single biggest issue facing our country, an existential threat to our country is being kept off conference agenda this year.
“Don’t be angry, go out of here, organise, go out of here and make your feelings plain to people, speak to the media and start campaigning in your constituencies.”
A bid to discuss “contemporary” motions on the UK quitting the EU was defeated in the party’s “priorities” ballot of party members and trade union affiliates.
Instead, conference will vote on eight other issues: housing, social care, the NHS, rail services, workers’ rights, investment and growth, public sector pay and the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Brexit won just 72,000 votes among local parties, way behind the other issues and not enough to get onto the agenda.
Pro-EU Labour members accused Momentum of a ‘fix’ that ran counter to Corbyn’s own demands to allow the rank and file to determine the party’s direction.
Corbyn supporters insist that he and the party were right to avoid a damaging internal row at its conference, just as the Tories are at their most divided.
The issue is still due to be debated on Monday, but without a vote the debate will have no bite, backers of the motions claim.
Richard Angell, director of the centrist pressure group Progress, told HuffPost UK: “The first conference where Momentum have got a majority, they decide to use this stitch and fix to save Jeremy Corbyn’s blushes.
“The leadership of the past might have occasionally stitched things up but not normally within seconds of taking control.
“This would make the control freaks of the New Labour era blush.”