UK Politics

Jeremy Corbyn: Clive Lewis quitting not a disaster

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn says Brexit bill vote 'not a disaster' for Labour

The resignation of shadow business secretary Clive Lewis to vote against the Brexit bill was "not a disaster", Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The party backed the government in Wednesday's vote, but 52 MPs rebelled.

Mr Lewis quit, saying he could not "in all conscience" support triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, getting talks with the EU under way.

But Mr Corbyn told the BBC that Labour had been right to "respect" the result of last year's EU referendum.

He dismissed as "fake news" and "absolute nonsense" suggestions that he was considering his own future as Labour leader.

And he added that Donald Trump "should not be coming to the UK", after it was announced recently that the US president had been invited to make a state visit later this year.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill was approved by 494 votes to 122 on Wednesday, and now moves to the House of Lords.

Mr Lewis, who earlier said he was undecided on whether to support the bill, announced his resignation as MPs began voting for the final time on Wednesday.

In a letter to Mr Corbyn, he wrote that he was leaving the shadow cabinet "with a very heavy heart", but Labour had not won "the protections the people of this country need" during the Commons debates on Brexit.

Mr Lewis added: "I know you understand the deep divide this issue has opened up in the country and it is to your credit that you have lead the debate in our party such an open and comradely way."

Asked on BBC Breakfast about Mr Lewis's departure, Mr Corbyn said: "It's not a disaster. The majority of Labour MPs voted to trigger Article 50. Fifty-odd voted against it, mainly on the basis of their strong message from their own constituents.

"My argument is it was a national vote, it was a national referendum, and Parliament has to respect that."

He added that the party would continue "demanding from the government social justice in Britain".

Who is Clive Lewis?

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One of the stars of the 2015 parliamentary intake, Clive Lewis is seen by many on Labour's left as a potential successor to Jeremy Corbyn.

He was born in London and grew up on a council estate in Northampton, moving on to become a BBC TV reporter.

Mr Lewis has quickly established himself as one of the most high-profile Corbynite MPs, rising from backbencher to shadow defence secretary in a matter of months. He became shadow business secretary last October.

Mr Lewis's resignation from Labour's frontbench team occurs as the party continues to grapple with the UK's exit from the European Union.

In a interview with the Guardian in August, the MP for Norwich South said: "I've been thrust too quickly into the shadow cabinet. I want to be in my constituency. I want to be a constituency MP."

His exit from the shadow cabinet means he can do just that.

Asked about the US president's planned state visit, Mr Corbyn said: "My position is Donald Trump should not be coming to the UK.

"I think we have to have relations with the USA. I'm not sure he's going to want to have a meeting with us."

He added: "The point is Donald Trump has been promoting something that undermines international law. He's been promoting misogyny. He's been making some awful statements in the USA. He's threatened to build a wall against Mexico.

"Our government seems to think this is a man they should do deals with."

Mr Corbyn also said: "I think it would be right to meet the president of the USA, but I think it would be wrong for him to come here."

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