By Adam George
The shadow secretary for Wales, Jo Stevens, has resigned from the shadow cabinet, saying that she could not vote to trigger Article 50 as she believes that leaving the European Union would be a “terrible mistake”. Stevens is the first shadow cabinet minister to resign in the wake of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, imposing a three-line whip to vote in favour of the government’s EU withdrawal bill.
The MP for Cardiff Central wrote a letter to Jeremy Corbyn to announce her resignation. In the letter Stevens described herself as “a passionate European”, who, alongside the majority of her constituents, had voted to remain.
The MP acknowledged that the country had voted to leave and that the parliamentary numbers are such that Article 50 will be triggered. However, she argues that “to endorse the step that will make the exit inevitable, is wrong.”
Stevens wrote “There have been no guarantees before triggering Article 50 about protecting single market access, employment, environmental and consumer rights, security and judicial safeguards and the residency rights of many of my constituents. And no guarantees for the people of Wales. Article 50 should not be triggered without these safeguards in place.”
It has been seen by some commentators as ironic that Jeremy Corbyn has decided to implement a three-line whip on such an important issue, having previously defied the whip on hundreds of issues of conscience throughout his parliamentary career. Stevens believes that Corbyn will understand her strength of feeling on the issue. “I must follow my principles and my conscience, even where that conflicts with the party’s whip in parliament,” she wrote.
“It is with deep regret that this inevitably means I must resign from the shadow cabinet. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as your shadow secretary of state for Wales, the country where I was born, bred, work and live.”
Stevens said she was not seeking to sow division in the party. “Throughout my period on the frontbench I have always sought to promote unity across our party and I wish you, my successor and the whole of the shadow cabinet the very best in leading our party through this most critical period,” she said in her letter to Corbyn.
The Labour leader released a statement in response to Stevens’ resignation in which he vowed that Labour would not frustrate Brexit. He admitted that he understood Jo’s difficulties and suggested that “MPs with strong Remain constituencies are understandably torn.”
Jo Stevens is not the only Welsh Labour MP who has said that they will defy the party whip and vote against triggering Article 50. Stephen Doughty, Owen Smith and Ann Clwyd are also expected to vote against starting the process of leaving the European Union.
Speaking on BBC Radio Wales, Pontypridd MP Owen Smith said: “I haven’t changed my view that this [Brexit] is going to make us worse off in this country, going to make people in Pontypridd poorer, to make our politics meaner.”
MPs began debating the bill in Parliament last Tuesday after the Supreme Court ruled that ministers could not trigger Article 50 without the consent of Parliament. Jo Stevens delivered a powerful speech in which she concluded “The referendum result last year felt like a body blow. The Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech felt like the life support machine being switched off and triggering Article 50 will for me feel like the funeral. It is a matter of principle and conscience to me and I must represent the majority of my constituents and share their view. I will not vote for this Bill.”