Sir Keir Starmer was repeatedly asked whether Ms Abbott, the shadow home secretary, would show up later as MPs vote on giving Theresa May the power to trigger the start of Britain’s divorce talks with the European Union.
Last week Ms Abbott failed to turn up for a vote on the Article 50 bill, claiming illness despite speaking in Parliament hours before.
Sky News’ Sarah-Jane Mee asked Sir Keir: “There is Diane Abbott, do you know if she is going to turn up today?”
Clearly unwilling to engage in the line of questioning, the MP for Holborn and St Pancras replied: “I can only speak for myself and I am not going to attempt to speak for anybody else…”
A Sky News anchor put Sir Keir Starmer on the spot over Diane Abbott's future
Interrupting, Mee said: “You are all part of the party you all speak to each other!
“Diane Abbott it is quite embarrassing, she says she was ill and that was why she didn’t turn up to the last vote.
“You have got #BrexitFlue #prayforDiane, it looks really bad that one of your senior MPs doesn’t turn up for a vote when she was seen in a pub the night before!”
Again, Sir Keir said he could not speak for others, causing an exasperated Mee to say: “I am trying to help you here, you must have spoken to her.
“Labour is coming out of this quite badly.”
Jeremy Corbyn is facing a battle to keep control of his parliamentary party
We have been concentrating on putting in scrutiny and accountability
Sir Keir Starmer
In reply, Sir Keir said: “From the outset we have said we accept the result of the referendum and that means the Prime Minister must be allowed to start the negotiations [with the EU].
“We have been concentrating on putting in scrutiny and accountability.”
He also promised Labour will continue to push for tariff-free access to the single market and to protect workers’ rights.
Asked if Ms Abbott, or other Brexit rebels, would face having to resign, Sir Keir again refused to speculate on what retribution those who ignore the Labour whip would face.
“You keep asking me to account for Diane Abbott’s actions and I am not going to do so,” he snapped.
“It is up to Diane Abbott what she does.”
Diane Abbott's most controversial quotes
Mon, February 6, 2017
Outspoken Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott holds strong opinions which does not always go down well.
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Being an MP is a good job, the sort of job all working-class parents want for their children — clean, indoors and no heavy lifting. What could be nicer?
Three other members of the shadow cabinet, shadow environment secretary Rachael Maskell, shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens and shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler, resigned to oppose the bill last week.
As well as 10 junior shadow ministers, three whips – enforcers charged with instilling party discipline – also voted against the Bill.
MPs are expected to debate the Bill allowing Article 50 to be triggered for up to seven hours, with the final vote expected to be held at around 8pm.
The Government comfortably defeated attempts on Tuesday night to give MPs a decisive say over the final terms of Brexit, despite anger among Tory remain campaigners.
Seven Conservative MPs, Ken Clarke, Bob Neill, Andrew Tyrie, Claire Perry, Anna Soubry, Antoinette Sandbach and Heidi Allen, defied their party whip.