Labour rebellion brews after abstaining on “Spycops” bill

Under the controversial new bill, undercover officers will be able to commit crimes if criteria are met. Source: jo.sau (via Flickr)
The Labour party has faced internal and external critique after MPs were whipped to abstain on the controversial "Spycops" bill.

By Hallum Cowell | Deputy Editor

On October 15, a controversial bill that would allow undercover police officers to lawfully commit crimes was passed in the House of Commons. Officially known as the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, the law was dubbed the “Spycops” Bill by critics who claim the lack of safeguarding in the bill could lead to human rights violations and an erosion of civil freedoms.

The bill would allow 13 agencies, including the police, the military, HMRC and the Food Standard Agency the legal parameters for their undercover agents to break the law. 

The bill allows these officers to commit crimes if it is in the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing and detecting crime or if preventing disorder in a way that is in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom.

Labour leader, Keir Starmer has made it clear that his issue with the Bill is the lack of safeguarding regarding the abuse of powers, rather than it’s aim, and so his whip to abstain was out of a desire for changes to the Bill rather than its removal from the floor.

The Bill passed with 313 votes in favour and 98 against after the Labour benches were whipped to abstain on the bill.

With a Conservative majority of over 80 seats, the other parties in the Commons had no chance of stopping the passing of the bill, however many within the Labour Party have been angered by Starmer’s decision to abstain on the Bill, rather than vote against it.

This anger manifested in 34 Labour MPs voting against the “Spycops” bill, including former leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, and thus breaking the whip.

The party’s abstention also saw a slew of resignations, including a member of the shadow Treasury team, Dan Carden, and the Shadow Education Minister, Margaret Greenwood.  

Carden said that he voted against the bill as a “matter of conscience” adding that the bill sets “dangerous new precedents” for civil liberties and the rule of law.

The Labour rebels predominantly come from the further left side of the party, which has been out of favour since the resignation of Jeremy Corbyn following Labour’s defeat in the 2019 General Election.

This rebellion comes as a keen reminder to those within the party that the division between new and old Labour are hardly a thing of the past and that many factions still exist within the opposition.  

Some Conservative MPs also took issue with the “Spycops” Bill. Steve Baker MP said: “For those of us who like the red meat of law and order, it has forced us to look inside the abattoir and we don’t like what we see.

“I can’t imagine ministers will be authorising killing or torture, but [that should be] on the face of the bill so the public can have confidence.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel commented on Labour’s abstention saying, “Once again, Labour has refused to stand up for those who protect our country and keep us all safe. Their leader may have changed, but Labour still can’t be trusted on national security.”

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