Sir Keir Starmer hit by series of Labour resignations over Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill

Sir Keir Starmer has witnessed a series of resignations and a sizeable rebellion as a number of Labour MPs ignored his orders and voted against new laws on undercover operatives.

The Labour leader had told his MPs to abstain on the third reading of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill on Thursday.

But 34 Labour MPs decided to vote against the legislation as it faced its final hurdle in the House of Commons.

The government’s bill is aimed at protecting undercover operatives from prosecution if they are forced to break the law on operations.

It also seeks to define circumstances in which operatives can commit crime – replacing various pieces of overlapping legislation.

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

However, critics have described the bill as a “licence for government agencies to authorise torture and murder” as there is no specific limitations on the type of criminal activity that may be authorised.

Ministers have 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.

Labour’s bid to amend the legislation to specify the limits on what agents could be allowed to do was defeated on Thursday before the bill’s third reading passed by 313 votes to 98.

Among the 34 Labour MPs to rebel were shadow ministers Margaret Greenwood and Dan Carden, who both subsequently resigned their front bench roles for defying the party’s whip.

Five other Labour MPs to vote against the bill – Sarah Owen, Kim Johnson, Mary Kelly Foy and Navendu Mishra – resigned as parliamentary private secretaries.

The Labour rebels also included the party’s former leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell, and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.

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Responding to Labour’s decision to tell its MPs to abstain on the third reading of the bill, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “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.

“Only the Conservatives will give our security services the power and support they need to keep our country safe.”

Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, urged the House of Lords to add urgent amendments to the bill when peers consider the legislation.

“It’s hugely worrying that we’re a step closer to seeing this deeply dangerous bill become law,” she said.

“MPs are signing off on a licence for government agencies to authorise torture and murder.

“Giving such disturbing powers to bodies including MI5 and the police could have devastating impacts.”

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