In Brief

Keir Starmer hit by Labour revolt over ‘licence to kill’ bill

The party leader is facing a string of resignations over whip to abstain on ‘spycops’ legislation

Keir Starmer is struggling to contain his first major Labour rebellion after dozens of the party’s MPs ignored his orders and voted against new laws on undercover operatives.

The Labour leader had told his MPs to abstain on the third and final Commons reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, but 34 opposed the legislation in the vote yesterday. Despite the Labour rebels, the reading passed by 313 votes to 98.

The controversial legislation - dubbed the “Spycops” bill - sets out new legal rights for undercover agents to commit crimes to “prevent disorder” or maintain “economic well-being”. But critics including Amnesty International have described the bill as a “licence for government agencies to authorise torture and murder”, as it does not explicitly rule out such crimes.

The government has “denied those charges and argued that human rights law is sufficient to prevent the powers contained in the bill being used to authorise serious abuses”, Sky News reports.

The legislation will cover 13 law enforcement and government agencies, including the police, the National Crime Agency, the armed forces and the Prison Service.

The row over the new laws is causing major headaches for Starmer, whose decision not to oppose the bill has triggered a string of resignations.

Margaret Greenwood, the shadow schools spokesperson, announced that she was quitting Labour’s front bench immediately after the early evening vote on Thursday, saying: “I cannot stand by and allow a bill to go through that will profoundly impact on our civil liberties.” 

The shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, Dan Carden MP, offered his resignation too, tweeting that “as a matter of conscience”, he had to vote against the legislation.

“Parliamentary private secretaries Nav Mishra, Kim Johnson, Mary Foy and Rachel Hopkins – all members of the Socialist Campaign Group – have also quit the frontbench to vote against, plus Sarah Owen, usually thought of as ‘soft left’,” reports LabourList.

The resignations are “the biggest challenge to the Labour leader’s handling of the controversy, which is shaping up as the biggest internal row of his six months in the job”, The Independent says.

The other Labour MPs who defied Starmer include the party’s former leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell, and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.

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