Labour to avoid revolt by voting against overseas operations bill

Labour is gearing up to vote against the overseas operations bill in the Commons on Tuesday, to halt a damaging run of rebellions at a time when the party is in turmoil following the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn.

Writing in the Guardian, John Healey, the party’s shadow defence secretary, described the bill as “dishonest and damaging” and said it was “not in the best interests of British troops, British justice or British military standing in the world”.

Labour sources indicated that the party would abandon its previous policy of abstaining should the amendments it was supporting fail, and oppose the bill at its third and final Commons reading.

Critics argue the bill effectively legalises torture and war crimes by soldiers serving abroad because it introduces an effective five-year time limit to criminal prosecutions to almost all crimes for soldiers serving overseas.

Healey wrote that he believed the government’s approach “risks the international criminal court acting to put British forces personnel on trial in the Hague if the UK justice system won’t”.

Last month, three of Labour junior shadow ministers were sacked after joining Corbyn and 14 other MPs from the party in the division lobby by voting against, when the leadership had called for an abstention.

It was the first of three human rights-related rebellions against the party leadership, including two others on the covert human intelligence sources bill, the last of which attracted 34 rebels, the largest rebellion since Keir Starmer took over as leader.

Andrew Scattergood, the co-chair of the party pressure group Momentum, which had been campaigning on the bill, said Labour’s leadership had “done the right thing” but added: “They have only done so because of concerted pressure from Labour members and left MPs. This is a vindication of their principled opposition.”

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Those on the left believe that Labour’s tactic of repeated abstention had been designed to “provoke leftwing resignations” – including the subsequent departures of Dan Carden and Margaret Greenwood at the most recent rebellion.

The party faces a greater crisis following the suspension of Corbyn, who had said the scale of Labour’s antisemitism problem “was also dramatically overstated for political reasons” in the aftermath of a scathing EHRC investigation.

Focus is expected to switch to amendments put down by the Conservative MP David Davis and Labour’s Dan Jarvis, which aims to ensure that torture and related offences would not be covered by the five-year limit.

The amendments have been supported by five Conservative MP, including former cabinet ministers Davis and Andrew Mitchell, as well as Crispin Blunt, Ian Liddell-Grainger and Pauline Latham. “I am very concerned about the reciprocal danger to our soldiers if the government does not take a strong line,” Mitchell said.

The government – bringing the concluding stage of the bill in the run-up to Armistice Day this Sunday – says the bill is necessary to prevent soldiers from being affected by vexatious claims.

A defence source added: “Whilst it is admirable that Labour have this time chosen to fall down on one side or another of the vote – instead of sitting on the fence – they’ve unfortunately chosen the side that confirms their long-held disdain for armed forces personnel.”



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