A cross-party attempt to take control of Brexit and rule out no deal is a “Trojan horse” for stopping Britain’s exit from the EU, a senior Labour MP has said.
Caroline Flint said the Yvette Cooper-led move could open the door to “game playing” by politicians who want to overturn the 2016 referendum result, and criticised the Labour leadership’s “high handed” decision to back it in the February 27 ‘high noon’ Brexit votes without consulting MPs.
Appearing on HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast, Flint said the so-called “Cooper 2” amendment was “even worse” than her party colleague’s first attempt, which was rejected by a majority of 23 last month after a Labour rebellion led by the Don Valley MP.
Flint, who backed Remain but has been holding talks with government ministers about supporting the Brexit deal, also urged Jeremy Corbyn to give Labour a free vote on EU withdrawal to keep hold of MPs who are “hellbent” on leaving the party.
She estimated around seven MPs could quit over Corbyn’s refusal to back a second referendum, but warned that they will be “responsible for ensuring Tory governments” by splitting Labour’s vote and losing their seats to May’s party.
They won’t win, but they'll be responsible for ensuring Tory governments
A free vote however could see around 40-60 Labour MPs backing the prime minister’s deal if the only other option is no deal, Flint said.
Second referendum supporters would also be free to “vote with their conscience”.
The prime minister has been accused of attempting to run down the clock towards exit day on March 29 but the ‘Cooper 2’ amendment aims to upend her strategy by forcing the government to seek MPs’ approval for a no-deal Brexit if it has not passed the withdrawal agreement by mid-March.
If the Commons rejected no-deal, May would then have to extend Article 50 and keep Britain in the EU for longer.
Flint however warned there are too many opportunities in the process set out by Cooper for further amendments to be passed which could reverse Brexit or force a second referendum.
The former Europe minister told Commons People: “At its most benign I think it’s a clever way to sit on the fence.
“It doesn’t have anything in it about what a deal should look like, it doesn’t have anything in it in terms of being against a second referendum, it’s all process.
“At its most worrying I think it is a Trojan horse.
“I think the mechanisms that she is putting into this allows those people who already aren’t interested in any deal and want a second referendum, to further frustrate and add in amendments and add in times.”
She added: “That’s where the danger of the game playing coming into that all over again for all different reasons.”
Flint was speaking as Chris Leslie, seen as a potential Labour splitter, attacked his frontbench’s position on Brexit.
Leslie told the Commons “we are being played for fools by the leadership of the Labour Party”, because Corbyn is refusing to back a second referendum.
“The idea that the Labour Party is not together and arguing against this tragedy, against this disaster is for me entirely heartbreaking,” he said.
Flint said she would be “sad” to see pro-EU MPs break away, but warned that they would lose their seats.
She said: “I don’t think that will work, I don’t think that will be successful, and it will cause clearly disruption and anguish within our ranks because we’ll be losing people who I’d hope would stay.
“But they will be a minority and the truth is where are they going to stand? Because the likelihood is if they stand against Labour in our areas they will let a Tory in.
“So they won’t win, but they’ll be responsible for ensuring Tory governments.”
Flint also suggested shadow chancellor John McDonnell should not have called wartime leader Winston Churchill a “villain” in an interview with Politico’s London Playbook on Wednesday night.
She said: “I didn’t understand why he got into that, Churchill to my mind had faults and weaknesses.”
She went on: “But undoubtedly he was a massively important iconic figure and leader during our darkest time during World War Two and we should never forget.
“It’s the sum of all someone’s parts rather than the mistakes they make that we need to look at.”