Heidi Alexander said she was ‘worried that the country is sleepwalking its way out of the single market’.
Tabled by the former shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander, and supported by 18 fellow Labour backbenchers, the proposal would, if passed, see the bill that would set in motion departure from the EU stopped entirely early next week.
Alexander has tabled what is officially known as a reasoned amendment, something that throws out a bill at its second reading in the Commons, the first time MPs have a chance to debate it.
The proposal calls for the bill’s demise on the grounds that the government has failed to “safeguard British interests in the single market” or offer proper guarantees on whether parliament or the electorate should decide on leaving the single market.
Alexander said she was acting because she was “worried that the country is sleepwalking our way out of the single market – that would be disastrous”.
As well as Alexander, it is backed by MPs including Tulip Siddiq – who resigned from the Labour frontbench on Thursday in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to compel his MPs to support the article 50 bill – along with Owen Smith, Ben Bradshaw and Stella Creasy.
While the measure is extremely unlikely to be passed, it marks another step in backbench Labour disquiet over May’s intention, announced in her speech on Brexit last week, to pull out of the single market, and Corbyn’s subsequent decision to impose a three-line whip on the article 50 bill.
The two-clause bill was published and given its first reading on Thursday in the wake of the supreme court’s ruling earlier in the week that the process to begin Brexit could not be triggered without parliamentary approval.
Labour’s leadership team has already tabled a series of proposed amendments to the bill. One would guarantee a “meaningful vote in parliament” on any final deal, while another calls for “full tariff and impediment-free access” to the single market.
However, Alexander said she feared that questions of process were threatening to “overwhelm this whole debate” and she and the other MPs wanted to highlight the fundamental damage they believe leaving the single market would cause to jobs, investment and growth.
The democratic process over Brexit “didn’t start and end on 23 June last year”, Alexander said.
“The debate about the referendum casts people like me as democracy deniers when I would argue the opposite is the case,” she argued.
“When you have the Conservative manifesto claiming that they would ‘safeguard British interests in the single market’, when the words single market didn’t even appear on the ballot paper, and the debate which preceded the vote was so misleading, I don’t feel democracy has been very well served.”
MPs have been granted five days to debate and scrutinise the bill, David Lidington, the leader of the Commons, said on Thursday.
The second reading debate will take place over two days, on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, with the key second reading vote on Wednesday. Parliament will sit until midnight on the Tuesday.
The following week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will be set aside for the committee and report stages and for the third reading. The bill will then go to the Lords.
There was, Alexander said, “a growing sense of unease on the Labour benches about the direction that Theresa May is wanting to take the country in”.
She said: “Speaking with colleagues on the Labour backbenches, it just feels it’s important to have this debate about the single market next Tuesday and Wednesday, when we are talking about article 50.”
The full list of MPs to support the amendment is: Heidi Alexander, Owen Smith, Ben Bradshaw, Meg Hillier, Angela Smith, Ian Murray, David Lammy, Stella Creasy, Mike Gapes, Peter Kyle, Karen Buck, Helen Hayes, Neil Coyle, Ann Coffey, Tulip Siddiq, Geraint Davies, Rushanara Ali, John Woodcock and Jim Dowd.