Labour MPs have hit out at their party’s “ludicrous confusion” over Tory Brexit policies after being ordered to abstain on the government’s flagship immigration legislation.
Following a severe backlash from backbenchers and other critics, the Opposition embarked on a swift U-turn and whipped its MPs to vote against the Immigration Bill on Monday night.
But the new order was only a one-line whip, effectively allowing MPs to stay away from the Commons vote.
The government won the vote comfortably, with 297 votes for and just 234 against. Only 178 Labour MPs (69% of the total Labour MPs) voted against.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott stunned several backbenchers when she revealed that the party would abstain on the second reading of the bill, which sets out curbs on EU migration after Brexit.
Abbott declared that she and other frontbenchers would not oppose the principles of the bill that included the end of ‘free movement’ of EU citizens, pointing out the policy had been included in Labour’s 2017 manifesto.
Abbott was clear that other parts of the legislation would be opposed when the legislation passed through its later stages in Parliament.
Several MPs vowed to break their whip to vote against the proposals, with Chris Leslie and Angela Smith intervening on Abbott to underline their complaints.
Following a hammering on Twitter and ridicule from Labour, SNP and even some Tory MPs, the party then announced a sudden change in its whipping plans.
A text from Labour whips sent to MPs just after 7pm – just three hours before the vote was due at 10pm – read:
“IMPORTANT: Those colleagues who remain on the [Parliamentary] estate may wish to be aware…