UK Politics

Brexit: Labour MPs in 'show us the money' row

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Media captionJohn Mann: This is not transactional politics

Labour MPs have been warned by their party not to accept money for their constituencies in return for supporting Theresa May's Brexit deal.

Labour chairman Ian Lavery said "taking such a bribe would be fool's gold" given the Tories' record on austerity.

John Mann has urged the PM to "show us the money" with "transformative investment" in areas that voted Leave.

But the Labour MP, who backed Theresa May's Brexit deal, denied it amounted to "transactional politics".

Writing on the Labour List website, Mr Lavery, the former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, accused Mrs May of playing "divide and rule" over Brexit.

"If the prime minister wants to talk about ending austerity and protecting rights as we leave the EU, she should do so with the leader of the Labour Party and his team.

"Any Labour MP seriously considering discussions with the PM should remember her record and that of her party going back generations. Quite simply, taking such a bribe would be fool's gold."

The government is understood to be considering proposals from a group of Labour MPs in predominantly Leave-supporting constituencies, to allocate more funds to their communities for big infrastructure projects.

It is thought the MPs have urged the prime minister to consider re-allocating the EU's regional aid budget away from big cities and local councils and to give the cash direct to smaller communities, often in former steel and coal mining areas.

John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, a former coal mining area in Nottinghamshire, met cabinet office officials in Whitehall on Thursday and told reporters: "I want to see, when we leave the European Union, significant investment in new technologies, new jobs, science and industry in areas like mine and all the other areas in the country like mine.

"This isn't transactional politics, this is about getting a national fund ... the areas that voted Leave the most are the areas that have not had that investment."

Is cash for constituencies wrong?

A couple of weeks ago, a Labour MP confessed quietly that they would vote for Theresa May's Brexit deal in the end.

But they wanted something to show for it, suggesting, half-teasingly, that they wanted the PFI debt of their local hospital paid off.

That MP was frustrated that the government had taken so long, as they saw it, to try to reach out to get them on board.

But they predicted that we would soon see what they described as "transactional politics", in a way that we haven't seen before in this country.

With Number 10 in a frantic hunt for support, maybe that time has arrived.

Read more from Laura

It comes as ministers continue to try to win support for the withdrawal deal Theresa May has negotiated with the EU, which was rejected by a historic margin in a Commons vote more than two weeks ago. Mr Mann was one of only three Labour MPs to back the deal.

Downing Street says that ministers are looking at a programme of "national renewal" following Brexit, to tackle inequality and rebuild communities but has denied any funding amounted to "cash for votes".

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Image caption Tottenham MP David Lammy is part of the People's Vote campaign for another referendum

Asked if the government was trying to bribe Labour MPs, Chancellor Philip Hammond said: "No it doesn't work like that I'm afraid.

"What we are doing is looking at some of the drivers behind the Brexit vote.

"What was it that felt that made so many communities feel that they didn't have a stake in the way our economy was operating?

"And making sure we are investing in, for example, former coalfield communities to ensure they can keep up with the changes that are happening across the economy and that they too can share in our future prosperity."

But David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, in north London, tweeted his response to headlines suggesting the PM was preparing to "woo Labour MPs with cash to back Brexit" saying: "Cowards and facilitators. History will be brutal."

And his colleague Chuka Umunna, who like Mr Lammy campaigns for another EU referendum, said on Twitter: "Government by bung is WRONG - whether involving DUP MPs or those from any other party.

"Funding should be based on the needs of the people not on the needs of an incompetent Tory PM to secure the votes of MPs for a deal which will make the UK poorer."

Asked about Mr Lammy's comments, the former Labour MP Frank Field, who now sits as an independent, said: "David would say that, he is in London. He isn't going to get any money and they are well provided for by the amount of rates they get in most areas and the wealth the business community brings to London."

The veteran MP for Birkenhead, on Merseyside, who backs Brexit, told BBC Newsnight Labour MPs representing Leave constituencies "should be fighting me to get to the front of the queue to get those funds".

He added: "That's how politics operates. The Tory party in government is very good at shoving money their way to their constituencies. I wish Labour were as effective."

But Anna Turley, MP for Redcar, a Teesside coastal town, which voted to leave the EU, told the same programme she found the idea "appalling".

"We have had nearly a decade now of austerity that has seen constituencies like mine absolutely hammered, £6bn has come out of public spending in the North by this government and if [there is] a programme or national renewal, I'm afraid it's too little too late."