Labour’s Brexit civil war deepens as Emily Thornberry loses PMQs role

Labour’s Brexit civil war deepens as frontbencher Emily Thornberry loses PMQs role after supporting a second referendum and is replaced by loyalist Rebecca Long-Bailey

  • Ms Thornberry usually deputises for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions 
  • But the shadow business secretary did the honours today instead 
  • David Lidington tore into the schism, likening it to a Soviet purge of dissenters

Labour’s brutal civil war over Brexit was brutally exposed today after frontbencher Emily Thornberry was sent into ‘internal exile’ by Jeremy Corbyn.

The shadow foreign secretary, who usually deputises for the Labour leader at Prime Minister’s Questions, was replaced this afternoon by shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey during the weekly Commons showpiece.

Islington South MP Ms Thornberry has departed from Mr Corbyn’s fence-sitting position on Brexit in recent weeks, calling for the party to move behind a second referendum.

And today, she sat on the front bench of the Commons to watch as Ms Long-Bailey, who has toed the party line in support of a Brexit on its own terms, represented the party against David Lidington. 

Mr Corbyn and Theresa May were both absent as they were representing Britain as D-Day commemorations in Portsmouth.

Mr Lidington tore into the schism opposite him, likening it to a Soviet purge of dissenters.

‘I feel slightly sorry for the right honourable lady, the member for Islington South, who I am used to jousting with, who seems to have been dispatched to internal exile somewhere else along the front bench,’ he said.

‘The honourable lady (Ms Long-Bailey) perhaps needs to watch out because I think there is a lesson there that anybody who at the Dispatch Box outshines the Dear Leader risks being airbrushed out of the Politburo history at the earliest opportunity.’

Rebecca Long-Bailey was flanked by Angela Rayner and Cat Smith as she stood in for Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions today

Emily Thornberry (circled), who usually deputises for Mr Corbyn at the weekly Commons showpiece, could only watch from further down the front bench.

Last month Ms Thornberry was among a hoist of senior Labour frontbenchers who went further than before in attacking the party’s Brexit strategy after it took a pasting in the European elections.

She blasted its ‘unclear’ strategy and demanded a second referendum after Labour’s thrashing.

Ms Thornberry warned were ‘getting a good kicking’ as the unashamedly pro-Remain Lib Dems ate into the Labour vote.

But while Mr Corbyn has inched slowly towards backing a new vote, he remains focused on trying to force a general election instead. 

Ms Long-Bailey opened by accusing Mrs May of being ‘silent’ on the matter of US companies having a chance to access the NHS, adding: ‘The president certainly seemed to think the NHS was on the table yesterday.

‘So does the trade secretary, but who knows who speaks for the Government at the moment and the Prime Minister did nothing to allay concerns yesterday.’

She added she hoped Mrs May was ‘more forceful’ in raising climate change with Mr Trump.

Mr Lidington said the PM did raise climate change with Mr Trump, adding that ‘we are very proud of this country’s commitment to the international agreement to reduce global carbon emissions’, saying the UK has a better record than ‘any other G7 state’.

But Ms Long-Bailey accused the Government of ‘running down the clock on our planet’, and accused them of using statistics which relied on policies put in place by the last Labour government, policies she said ‘have since been dismantled’.

Mrs May’s deputy hit back, saying the UK is hitting its targets and is currently in the longest period ‘without any electricity generated from coal’, accusing Labour of wanting to ‘reopen the coal mines but not actually burn the coal that they mine’.

In response, she said Labour ‘does not condone the reopening of any coal mine for energy purposes’, saying at the current rate it would take the UK until ‘the end of the century to reach zero emissions’.

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