The political class of east London still holds a torch for the European Union even though everyone else is resigned to Brexit.
MPs from the region featured strongly among the Labour rebels who defied leader Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip to vote through the Article 50 bill while one Isle of Dogs councillor quit the party in disgust at Labour’s stance.
As Tower Hamlets Borough Council has no seat at the table during the Brexit negotiations, Andrew Cregan’s leap from Labour to Lib Dem would normally cause eyebrows to rise rather than buildings to topple.
However, the Island Gardens representative’s defection has a more telling consequence locally. For it moves the strife-torn council from Labour to No Overall Control.
The return of the red flag in Tower Hamlets was hard-fought and required the deposing of executive mayor Lutfur Rahman and the disbanding of his party via the courts – although Labour stood back and allowed others to do the heavy lifting.
It comes just as Mr Rahman returns to politics, supporting one of his former acolytes to challenge Labour’s John Biggs in the 2018 mayoral elections, giving the ragged rump of Rahman rebels something to crow about after many months of mumbling.
Mr Cregan, 33, said: “I’m passionately pro-European and I won’t be part of a political party that’s acquiescent in taking our country out of the EU. I have been disappointed with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the stance on Article 50 has been the last straw.”
The council now has 22 Labour MPs up against 12 independents, 5 Tories, the five-strong People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets and sole Lib Dem Mr Cregan.
Theresa May’s Bill to trigger Article 50, beginning the process of Brexit, passed its first Commons vote 498-114 on Wednesday.
Among those supporting the move were Poplar and Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick and Greenwich MP Matthew Pennycook. However, they found themselves geographically circled by pro-remainers making a last-ditch stand.
Among those who defied the whip were Docklands MP Stephen Timms, Bethnal Green and Bow’s Rushanara Ali, Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier, West Ham MP Lyn Brown, Bermondsey MP Neil Coyle, Deptford MP Vicky Foxcroft and Lewisham East’s Heidi Alexander.
Hackney MP Diane Abbott, a close confidante of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, launched a thousand memes by abstaining because of a migraine despite being spotted partying just hours before.
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