Labour Leader Keir Starmer is self-isolating and has been tested for coronavirus as a member of his household has been displaying symptoms of the virus. Starmer, who is not displaying symptoms himself, was left isolating, awaiting the results of his test.
However, the timing has necessitated his absence from the debate and first vote of the controversial Internal Market Bill on Monday. The bill, which seeks to override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, has been strongly criticised from members on both sides of the House. Notably, this also includes all surviving ex-Prime Ministers, Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major.
This appearance was set to be one of his most important since becoming leader of the party in April this year.
Shadow Business Secretary and former Labour Leader Ed Miliband led the opposition in his place, arguing that the bill risks the Northern Ireland peace process. Starmer has personally criticised the bill leading up the debate, stressing that ‘public trust has been broken’ over the proposal, as the UK has shown that it ‘cannot be trusted to keep its word’ on the international stage.
Despite this, the bill passed the second reading with 340 votes for to 263 against – a comfortable majority of 77. During the debate, Boris Johnson claimed that the EU was trying to ‘use the Northern Ireland protocol in a way that goes well beyond common sense, simply to exert leverage against the UK in our negotiations for a free trade agreement,’ which Ed Miliband said showed ‘[the PM]didn’t read the protocol… hasn’t read the bill… doesn’t know his stuff.’
As the Conservatives currently possess a working majority of 80 seats, this was not unexpected, despite discontent within the Conservative party. Only 2 Tories voted against the bill, but 30 abstained or were absent from the vote, including former Chancellor Sajid Javid, ex-attorneys general Sir Geoffrey Cox and Jeremy Wright, and Theresa May.
The Democratic Unionist Party voted with the government, but all Labour, Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrat, and other party MPs voted against or abstained from the vote.
Whilst it is evident that Starmer’s individual vote may not have made much difference, it is unclear how much his voice might have influenced the debate.
A Labour amendment to reject the bill entirely was also voted against by 349 votes to 213.
Despite being over the first hurdle, the Internal Market Bill will receive intense scrutiny in the upcoming weeks, with the Tories bracing themselves for further rebellions.