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Exclusive: Norfolk MP Norman Lamb on why he could not vote against triggering Article 50

PUBLISHED: 19:32 07 December 2016 | UPDATED: 14:17 21 December 2016

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and former health minister, has called for mental health services to be better funded. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and former health minister, has called for mental health services to be better funded. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The Press Association

Norfolk MP Norman Lamb did not walk through the voting lobby with his party tonight claiming he could not imply he would be willing to block Article 50 from being triggered.

What happened this evening

MPs have backed the Government to formally start EU withdrawal no later than the end of March 2017 - but only if it publishes its Brexit plan first.

A symbolic motion, which is non-binding, was approved by 448 votes to 75, majority 373.

Faced with a revolt by up to 40 Tory MPs, Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday bowed to pressure and backed a Labour motion which said she should publish a plan before triggering the formal process of leaving.

In return, most of the rebels and Labour backed a compromise Government amendment to support Mrs May’s pledge to invoke Article 50 to start Brexit by April.

The North Norfolk MP was one of the key figures behind the Liberal Democrat tactic to offer a second vote on the negotiated outcome of Brexit - but he said he would not feel comfortable voting to block the start of the process to leave the European Union.

In the North Norfolk District Council area - which makes up the vast majority of his constituency - 58.9pc of voters said they wanted to leave the European Union.

“I feel uncomfortable with the idea of voting against triggering Article 50,” he said. “My plan is to abstain tonight for that reason. “It is not a straight question tonight of whether we oppose triggering Article 50, but if we get to that point, I am clear in my mind that I don’t feel comfortable with having voted for the referendum in the first place, as we all did, to then vote to block the triggering of the article. I think it would be inconsistent therefore for me to oppose tonight.

“I have deep concerns about the government’s position, I have deep concerns about the implications of a ‘hard Brexit’. I think we run the risk of significant economic damage to our country and impact on jobs. I have massive concerns about how we get a workforce in vital services like the NHS and care if we go for ‘hard Brexit’, quite apart from other sectors in our country, including in our own county of Norfolk,. I have the farming community talking to me about this. On this specific issue about whether there is a case for in any circumstances blocking the triggering, I have difficulty with that. That is why I am abstaining.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron announced earlier today that his party would vote against an amendment in the Commons that would tie MPs to voting unconditionally for Article 50 - the mechanism which would see Britain begin divorce proceedings from the European Union.

Mr Farron said: “We cannot support a parliamentary stitch up that would deny the people a vote on the final deal.”

But Mr Lamb, who said he had spoken to the chief whip and leader, said he had been “thinking about it long and hard”,

But he stood by the party’s push for the country to have a say on the negotiated outcome of the Brexit process.

“I think there is a very strong case for that because there isn’t any mandate for whatever the government negotiates and we don’t have an idea what their negotiating plan is.”

He said that he was “conscious” of how his constituency had voted, but added: “I want to do things to influence the type of settlement that we get, and I absolutely want Britain to remain open and engaged with Europe, and I don’t want us to cut off our nose to spite our face. On this specific issue of whether you should vote to block the triggering of Article 50, that is where I have the difficulty.

“If there is an opportunity to vote to give people a chance to have a say on the negotiated outcome of this process. I will absolutely vote for that. There may well be other opportunities to vote on how the government negotiates, or the principle involved. We don’t yet know what issues will come before parliament. The narrow point - you can’t really read more into it than this - I simply don’t feel comfortable voting or implying tonight that I could vote against triggering Article 50.”

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