Labour abandons support for gay marriage "wrecking" amendment

The party tables its own rival amendment to establish a consultation on introducing civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.

After ministers warned that the amendment to the gay marriage bill establishing civil partnerships for heterosexual couples could "wreck" the legislation, Labour has opted not to support the amendment and instead table its own. 

The Labour amendment, as outlined by Yvette Cooper on The World At One, would establish "an immediate consultation on opposite sex civil partnerships", which, she said, could begin even before the bill has completed its parliamentary passage. Cooper went on to confirm that, while this is a free vote, she was recommending that MPs do not support the amendment tabled by former Tory minister Tim Loughton, which would introduce  heterosexual civil partnerships. This was widely viewed by ministers as an attempt to "wreck" the bill, not least because Loughton and the other Tory MPs supporting it are opponents of gay marriage. Government sources had warned that it could delay the introduction of equal marriage until after the general election.

Labour had also suggested that the amendment could be used by the government as a convenient excuse to abandon the bill, an option ministers insisted they were not considering. But by opposing the Loughton amendment, Cooper said, Labour was ensuring that neither the government nor MPs could "wreck" the legislation.

With Labour and most Lib Dem MPs now planning either to abstain or vote against the amendment, any chance there was of it passing has ended. 

Update: A Labour source has told The Staggers that Labour will abstain from voting on the Loughton amendment, meaning that its fate will likely depend on the Lib Dems (Cameron and other Tory supporters of gay marriage will vote against it).

Earlier today, Nick Clegg suggested that he would be prepared to vote against the amendment if necessary to save the bill. He said: "I don't want anything to interfere with the central purpose of this legislation ... The bottom line is that I will do whatever I judge is best to safeguard the bill and to make sure that it does not become hijacked by those whose ulterior motive is actually to discredit or to derail the legislation."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper speaks at last year's Labour conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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