UK Labour in public civil war with devolved groups over drugs policy

LABOUR has erupted into a public civil war over drugs policy.

The fall-out within the party spilled out into the public sphere after private Whatsapp messages between top members of Keir Starmer’s frontbench were leaked to the media.

The i reported on the messages exchanged between Labour shadow ministers furious at Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, for announcing the formation of the new group to consider the decriminalisation of cannabis in Britain.

Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed, shadow trade secretary Gareth Thomas, and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting attacked Khan for the move, with Reed describing it as an “open goal” for the Tories.

READ MORE: Labour branded ‘shameful’ for attack on drug policy amid deaths crisis

Thomas said Khan’s comments were going down “like a bucket of cold sick” while Streeting suggested the mayor was impacting Labour’s chances of winning the next General Election.

The Labour Party issued an official statement saying it “does not support changing the law on drugs”, adding: “Drugs policy is not devolved to mayors and under Labour would continue to be set by national Government.”

The UK party and shadow ministers were then attacked by Labour MSP Monica Lennon (below) for their position on drugs.

Writing on Twitter, Lennon said of the shadow ministers’ attack on Khan: “The ‘war on drugs’ has failed spectacularly. @Keir_Starmer and his team are failing to understand this.

“Unless our laws, policies and budgets are rooted in public health and smart justice, more people will die, more communities will suffer and more public pounds will be wasted.”

She further shared a post from the Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform, which is led by Withington MP Jeff Smith, calling Khan’s announcement a “welcomed and important development”.

Labour is caught between wanting to appear tough on drugs and drug-related crime at a UK level, but also advocating for change to fight the drugs deaths crisis in Scotland.

In Scotland, the Lord Advocate announced in late 2021 that anyone found to be in possession of class A drugs could be issued a warning instead of facing instant prosecution. At the time, Scottish Labour drugs policy spokesperson Claire Baker welcomed the decision saying she hoped it would lead to more drug users getting the support they need.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has previously said that government must “look at every option” to fight the drugs crisis in Scotland, and called for policy to “learn from what works”.

Starmer has previously said he does not support “changing the law or decriminalisation”, but said he does back “schemes where cannabis possession, you’re not arrested, you’re not prosecuted for it”.

Labour was slated by former MSP Neil Findlay ahead of the council elections after it ran Facebook ads attacking the LibDems for wanting to “soften” drugs laws.

Scottish Labour has been asked to make its official position clear. Sadiq Khan’s office has been approached for comment.

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