Did you get duped by The Guardian’s ‘three-line’ Brexit farce?

John Shafthauer

On 19 January, The Guardian reported that Jeremy Corbyn had ‘signalled’ he would impose a three-line whip on his MPs. This is when a political party strongly urges its MPs to vote in line with its leadership. And the vote in question was the parliamentary vote on the triggering of Article 50. But the problem is that neither Corbyn nor his team have spoken of imposing a three-line whip. Many of his supporters now believe that they have, though, thanks to The Guardian article.

The article

According to The Guardian article:

Jeremy Corbyn will order Labour to vote in favour of triggering article 50 in a move likely to prompt a rebellion of around 30 MPs, including several frontbenchers.

The Labour leader signalled on Thursday that he would impose a three-line whip if the government lost its supreme court challenge and brought a Brexit bill to parliament.

This obviously does not explicitly say that he will, although it is strongly suggestive of it. The original headline, which can still be seen in the article’s web address, was explicit:

Corbyn to impose three-line whip on Labour MPs to trigger Article 50

Compared to the amended headline on The Guardian‘s website:

The response

The response to Corbyn ‘imposing a three-line’ whip has been largely negative:

The excuses

Several people challenged the story’s author, and Guardian Political Editor, Heather Stewart:

The fact that Corbyn’s team has not yet issued a statement does not give The Guardian the right to make up their minds for them. And as Aaron Bastani points out, it would be strange for Labour to impose any whip before even seeing the bill. Especially as Corbyn has often avoided three-line whips. Even on issues he has felt strongly about, like Trident.

A runaway narrative

Since The Guardian‘s article, the idea that Corbyn issued a three-line whip has become accepted in much of the media. The Spectator issued an article titled The irony of Corbyn’s three-line whip. And The Telegraph released an article titled Jeremy Corbyn backs down on vow to force Labour MPs to vote in favour of Brexit. An article which stated:

And just hours after suggesting MPs will be subjected to a three-line whip on the vote, meaning they would have no choice but to back Mrs May, aides close to the leader said no decision on the party’s stance had been made.


Stewart had a final message for those who took issue with her article:

A point which seems to suggest that fabricating information is fine as long as some people enjoy the fabrication. But it isn’t. And it is essentially fake news. Because The Guardian has taken this reality:

  • Labour MAY tell MPs to vote a certain way DEPENDENT on what’s in the bill.

And turned it into this:

  • Labour WILL tell MPs to vote a certain way REGARDLESS of what’s in the bill.

Bastani was again right to point out that The Guardian can be a superb and informative news source. But that cannot excuse journalism which plays fast and loose with the truth. We need news sources like The Guardian which do great investigative work. But every time they do something like this, their readers lose a little bit more faith in them.

UPDATE: The original Guardian headline was formerly shown via a tweet. However, due to Twitter updating, said tweet began to display the amended headline. The original headline can still be seen in the Guardian article’s web address.

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