Labour is in chaos over Brexit as Jeremy Corbyn appeared to back down after telling MPs they would be forced to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.
The party descended deeper into a row over how to respond to the Prime Minister’s speech on leaving the EU after the Labour leader warned that all MPs would be expected to back the Government instead of taking a stand against leaving the EU.
But the decision came as one of Mr Corbyn’s most senior shadow cabinet allies publicly warned he will not vote for Article 50, while a further group of his most senior team threatened to do the same.
And just hours after suggesting MPs will be subjected to a three-line whip on the vote, meaning they would have no choice but to back Mrs May, aides close to the leader said no decision on the party’s stance had been made.
In an apparent U-turn, sources denied Mr Corbyn will force his MPs to vote with the Government and instead claimed that the leader is still making up his mind.
The move prompted one MP to warn that the party is in utter chaos, adding: Nobody understands what our position is, even Labour MPs don’t understand what our position is – the truth is we don’t have one and we certainly don’t have an argument on this.
Asked whether Labour will back Mrs May and support the formal triggering of divorce from the EU, Mr Corbyn said: “I’ve made it very clear the Labour Party accepts and respects the decision on British people.
We will not block Article 50. It means all Labour MPs will be asked to vote in that direction next week, whenever the vote comes up.
But just hours later, senior aides said that Mr Corbyn had not meant to imply that a three-line whip will be in place next week and instead claimed that a decision has not yet been taken.
The Government is likely to be forced into calling a vote in the House of Commons next week after the Supreme Court hands down its verdict on whether Mrs May needs permission to take the decision.
If MPs are asked to vote on Article 50 they could block Brexit by refusing to support the legislation, although ministers believe this is unlikely.
Clive Lewis, the shadow business secretary, revealed that he does not believe backing Article 50 is in the best interests of his constituents, while a further group in the shadow cabinet said they will vote against it.
He told the Eastern Daily Press: It is safe to say that I am deeply concerned at the direction that Theresa May and the Conservative Government is taking these negotiations, and the developments that are taking place.
I am very mindful of what the majority of constituents in Norwich South voted for, which is to remain. I don’t think what is currently on the table, given the irreversibility of Article 50, means that signing Article 50 under these conditions is in the best interests of people in Norwich or the country.
However, it is the job of the Opposition to see what we can get between now and March 31 in terms of assurances and guarantees and I think that will be critical to many people when they come to make their decision on this vote.
It came as a group of between 20 to 30 senior Labour MPs vowed to wrestle control of the party’s response to Brexit away from Mr Corbyn in an attempt to protect the party from devastating electoral defeat.
One of the group said Labour’s front bench have shown themselves incapable of forming a strong stance against the Prime Minister.