Monday, 18 Jan 2021

‘Captain indecision’ Starmer could force Labour MPs to abstain again – this time on Brexit

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Several senior frontbenchers have indicated they would abstain in a Commons vote on a potential EU trade agreement despite the Labour leader’s plans to support a deal and as many as 60 backbenchers could also defy Sir Keir if he insists MPs back Boris Johnson. Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds and shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry are reported to be among those in favour of abstaining in such a vote.

We’ve got to show we are serious about moving forward as a party and as a nation

Labour source

Others potential frontbench rebels are shadow chief secretary to the treasury Bridget Phillipson and shadow equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova, according to party insiders.

One source said shadow justice secretary David Lammy was torn “between his heart and his head”.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy have indicated they will vote in favour of a Brexit deal.

One source told the Guardian: “There have been healthy discussions about how we proceed from here.

“Ultimately, no one disagrees that the divide between leave and remain is over – but we’ve got to show we are serious about moving forward as a party and as a nation.”

Another said there was “just a difference of opinion on what is best, both now and trying to predict the future”.

But there are growing fears of a rebellion among Labour MPs, many of whom would flatly reject any demands to support the Government and others who backed the People’s Vote campaign and are ideologically opposed to any form of Brexit.

Boris Johnson has upgraded Sir Keir Starmer’s “Captain Hindsight” nickname to “General Indecision” after criticising the Labour leader’s COVID-19 abstention.

The Prime Minister told MPs that Sir Keir is “rising rapidly up the ranks” following his decision to not take part in a major Commons vote on the new system of restrictions for England.

Labour MPs were told to abstain on the vote to replace the national lockdown with a tier system, although 15 defied party orders and voted against the regulations.

The Prime Minister criticised Sir Keir’s abstention again, joking: “When it came to protecting the people of this country from coronavirus at this critical moment, he told his troops to abstain.

“Captain Hindsight is rising rapidly up the ranks and has become General Indecision.”

The Labour splits have appeared as British and EU negotiators try to hammer out an agreement ahead of the end of the transition period on December 31.

The negotiations continued after Mr Johnson insisted the UK’s “bottom line” on a post-Brexit trade deal is to “take back control”.

The Prime Minister said he was “absolutely committed” to trying to secure a deal “if we can” amid warnings talks with the EU have reached a “make or break” point.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier briefed ambassadors from the 27 member states on the latest negotiations amid little sign of progress on the key issues.

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He was said to have warned that significant differences remain over fisheries, state aid rules and the governance arrangements for any agreement.

The current trading arrangements expire at the end of the month, and failure to reach a deal would cause significant economic disruption.

At a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said: “I think our friends know what the UK’s bottom line is and what people voted for on June 23, 2016 – they voted to take back control.

“It’s about making sure that the UK is able to run its own laws, its own fisheries and so on.”

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