Why Labour is abstaining on coronavirus tier vote

Labour MPs will withhold their support when the Commons votes on Boris Johnson’s new, stricter system of tiered coronavirus restrictions later this evening – the first time that the opposition has not backed government proposals for tackling the pandemic.

Party leader Keir Starmer says he can no longer support the prime minister in the absence of “a functioning testing system” and “effective economic support” for businesses, even though he wants the new rules to become law.

“Labour accepts the need for continued restrictions,” Starmer tweeted last night. “However, I remain deeply concerned that Boris Johnson’s government has failed to use this latest lockdown to put a credible health and economic plan in place.”

A government spokesperson accused the Labour chief of “playing politics in the middle of a pandemic”.

Starmer’s decision “will prompt fears in Downing Street that Johnson can no longer count on the opposition’s support for coronavirus measures that have become deeply unpopular with his own MPs”, The Guardian reports.

There is little doubt that the new rules will pass, however, as most Conservative MPs will vote for them. “What probably ends up mattering – not so much today but in the weeks ahead – is whether the Tory rebellion is larger than the government’s majority,” says Politico London Playbook’s Alex Wickham.

That could spell defeat for future Covid rules – although the maths would be complicated by a smaller rebellion on the Labour backbenches. Several MPs “want to break ranks and vote against the reintroduction of Tiers 1, 2 and 3”, and are “refusing even to abstain”, says HuffPost.

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By ending his support for the government, Starmer has dodged “a full-on showdown with a 20-strong contingent of northern Labour MPs who want to vote against the tiers”, adds Politico’s Wickham.

The tactical abstention could therefore serve two purposes, says the Daily Mail: to “quieten” the rebellion on his own backbenches and “expose Tory fault-lines on the divisive issue”.


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