On Wednesday (23 September 2020), Keir Starmer sacked 3 left-wing Labour MPs from their front-bench positions for voting against Boris Johnson’s Overseas Operations Bill.
The three MPs Beth Winter, Nadia Whittome and Olivia Blake are part of the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG), originally founded by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell as a means of holding the Labour leadership accountable and pressuring them into adopting more left policies.
The government Bill’s primary motive is to grant legal immunity to British armed forces personnel who have committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but will also grant the same immunity to soldiers committing gross wrongdoings in current and future conflicts.
The Bill introduces what the government terms a ‘statutory presumption against prosecution’, meaning that the chance of prosection is rare and the legislation states that after 5 years of committing the act, the perpetrator is exempt from legal prosecution in total.
In addition to receiving an 80 vote majority from Tory MPs, an alarming majority of Labour MPs abstained from the vote after Starmer had instructed them to do so.
In total only 18 Labour MPs (just 8 per cent of the total Party MPs) disobeyed starmer and voted against the Bill.
In comparison, 45 MPs from the Scottish National Party voted against the Bill and the Liberal Democrats, a right-wing Party with only 11 MPs, had 9 MPs vote against it.
The now-passed Bill has the potential to legalise acts of torture, murder and sexual violence committed by British armed forces, sparking Amnesty International to highlight the the bill could essentially be a “license to kill” for armed forces personnel.
Equally as alarming, the Bill is not exclusively concerned with the British armed forces, but will also grant an array of legal immunities for intelligence agencies such as GCHQ, the police, the Serious Fraud Office, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Home Office.
Starmer’s call for abstention and his subsequent sacking of Labour MPs opposed to the Bill indicates a clear support for legal immunity of British armed forces personnel and other public sector workers who have committed gross wrongdoings.
Although rationalising abstention by arguing that the Bill can be amended by Labour Party parliamentary pressure, the act itself infringes upon international treaties and can be used to justify an increase in chauvinistic violence in overseas conflicts.
Within the ‘socialist’ SCG, only 16 of the group’s 34 MPs voted against the Bill.
Hopes to rekindle a Labour left oppositional to the Tory Party’s chauvinistic military foreign policy appear scarce at this current period of time.