Labour councillors break from party in Brexit vote

Katherine Johnston (24 January, 2019) Politics

The News understands that Newington ward councillors Eleanor Kerslake and James Coldwell have been hauled in front of their colleagues to answer for their support of the Liberal Democrat motion at November’s council assembly. 

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Two Labour councillors have been rapped by the party after breaking ranks and voting in favour of a people’s vote on Brexit – despite two Southwark Labour MPs’ vocal support for another referendum.

The News understands that Newington ward councillors Eleanor Kerslake and James Coldwell have been hauled in front of their colleagues to answer for their support of the Liberal Democrat motion at November’s council assembly.

Cllr Eleanor Kerslake

Liberal Democrat councillor David Noakes’ motion for the council to back another referendum on Brexit was shot down in favour of a Labour-backed amendment pushing for a general election, in the event of Theresa May failing to get her deal through parliament.

While the Lib Dems tabled the motion hoping it would be treated as a vote of conscience, Labour councillors were told by the whip to toe the party line, even though Labour MPs Helen Hayes and Neil Coyle have publicly backed a ‘people’s vote’.

Both have told of receiving hundreds of letters and emails from worried residents who are panicked by a potential no-deal Brexit and withdrawal from the EU.

Cllr James Coldwell

Cllr Coldwell was given a standing ovation by the Lib Dems when he told the chamber: “There’s no doubt in my mind that a general election cannot come soon enough, but even if we secure a general election that will not make Brexit go away.

“Unless a new referendum takes place with an option to remain, the next Labour government will find itself just as paralysed by Brexit the current Conservative one.

“I will have a disciplinary proceeding starting probably as soon as next week and there’s a chance I’ll have the whip removed for a substantial period of time. [But] I believe the right course of action is to support a people’s vote.”

Well-placed sources say both have indeed had the whip withdrawn, effectively kicking them out of the Labour group, although this is not believed to be on a permanent basis.

Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle, whose constituency includes the Newington ward, told the News on Monday he sympathised with both councillors, saying: “I’m hardly in a strong position to criticise anyone who breaks the whip.”

Coyle said the decision to withdraw the whip would not have been taken lightly, and he hoped it would not prove divisive within the party.

“I think both James and Eleanor are excellent councillors and it is a shame that they are in this position,” he added.

 

Anood Al-Samerai, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, said Labour was putting ‘political infighting’ above what is best for the country.

‘As we all know, both the Tory and Labour parties are far too busy with political infighting than doing what’s best for the country.

“Given the utter mess they’ve both made, the Liberal Democrats are clear that the people should now decide what happens next.

“It’s disappointing that Southwark Labour have punished the only two councillors that have put their principles and local people before party.”

Although the disciplinary action does not affect their Labour party membership or day-to-day work as councillors, it prohibits them from voting on policy decisions taken by the group, and is likely to bar them from being able to stand again in future elections.

Labour declined to comment on any possible disciplinary measures for the two councilllors. However, chief whip of Southwark Labour Group, councillor Sarah King, said: “Cllr Coldwell and Cllr Kerslake remain Labour councillors and continue to work hard for the residents in Newington ward and Southwark.”

Labour Chief whip Cllr Sarah King

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