By Arj Singh
Theresa May has been branded “hopeless” by Brexit-backing Labour MPs who revealed no-one in government has tried to persuade them to back her deal, despite their rebellion against attempts to delay the UK’s exit from the EU.
The prime minister has reached out to the likes of Caroline Flint and John Mann, promising to address concerns over issues like workers’ rights and promising funding for Leave-backing communities in return for support for her agreement with the EU.
But several of the Labour MPs who abstained on an anti-no deal amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper earlier this month – against Jeremy Corbyn’s orders – said they had received no contact from ministers or whips.
One described the government as “useless”, and another said ministers were “a bunch of amateurs”.
At least five of the 25 Labour rebels said they were now ready to back Cooper’s second attempt to delay Article 50 in ‘high noon votes’ on Wednesday.
If passed, it would effectively see MPs vote to either agree to a no-deal Brexit or order the PM to seek an extension to Article 50 if she cannot get support for her deal by March 13.
Many say they have been won over following reassurances from the former Labour leadership candidate, while no-one in government had attempted to persuade them otherwise.
It comes after the three MPs who quit the Tories on Wednesday revealed no government figures had tried to persuade them to stay, raising further questions about the whipping operation.
One of the Labour abstainers, John Spellar, said he was willing to support a short Brexit delay from March 29 to June 30, but had not yet decided whether to support “Cooper 2”.
“They are hopeless, their whipping operation is in grand strategy and in small detail absolutely lamentable.
He was, however, scathing of the government’s strategy to get its deal through, telling HuffPost UK: “My views must be well known, because they haven’t (reached out to me).
“They are hopeless, their whipping operation is, in grand strategy and in small detail, absolutely lamentable.
“They are a bunch of amateurs.”
Another, shadow education minister Mike Kane, said he and other colleagues were pleased the second amendment tabled by Cooper would make the prime minister decide how long a delay to Article 50 should be, meaning Labour MPs cannot be blamed.
“I’m much happier with Cooper 2,” he said.
“I’ve had a lot of discussions with Yvette, there was a number of us on the frontbench as well.
“We thought why the heck would we be tagged with a nine month delay and seen as frustrating the Brexit process? The prime minister has got to own this, we know she has got to apply for some sort of extension unless she goes for a general election or second referendum.
“And the bill next week sets out that the prime minister has to tell us what she wants to do.
“On that basis I am a lot happier.”
Another previous abstainer, who did not want to be named, said: “I am intending to vote for the proposal put forward by Yvette Cooper, as it prevents a no-deal scenario and does not open the door to a second referendum that I and many of my colleagues oppose.”
But the MP said that while they had considered potentially backing May’s deal, they felt she had negotiated in “bad faith” by “refusing to countenance any move towards a customs union”.
“I’ve had absolutely no contact from the government, it’s useless. I will not vote for the PMs deal as it stands,” they added.
Another MP who abstained said: “From what I’ve seen so far I can back Cooper 2 and no one has approached me from Number 10.”