Labour is the real winner after the European Arrest Warrant vote that wasn't

Labour is set to use an opposition day debate on the eve of the Rochester and Strood by-election to debate and vote on the European Arrest Warrant.

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Last night, the House of Commons fell into disarray as furious Tory MPs discovered that they would not be voting on the European Arrest Warrant, accusing the government of misleadingly ducking an issue that would see some backbenchers rebel.

The Labour party jumped on Theresa May's bungling with Yvette Cooper leaping up and proposing her own motion to postpone the vote. This led to some extraordinary filibustering from the Tories as they attempted to buy time for as many of their MPs, including David Cameron hurrying in in white tie having left the Lord Mayor's Banquet early, to turn up and vote.

Labour's motion was defeated by just 43 votes. But such a close vote, with 35 Tories rebelling to vote in favour of the motion, was a sign that the Labour party – which actually supports the government in wanting to opt in to the warrant – was calling the shots as government authority in the Commons dangerously wobbled.

Eventually, the government's original motion, which so controversially did not even mention the European Arrest Warrant, was comfortably passed, by 464 to 38. However, it looks like Labour continues to be the real winner, as it is reported this morning that the party is set to use an opposition day debate on Wednesday next week to discuss and vote on opting in to the warrant.

The date scheduled, 19 November, is on the eve of the Rochester and Strood by-election, which is awkward for the Prime Minister. To see rebellions from his eurosceptic MPs, as well as having to assert a pro-European position, the day preceding a by-election where it looks like the anti-EU Ukip is likely to defeat the Conservatives and take another of their seats is a very difficult situation for the PM.

Having been constantly criticising May in recent weeks for attempting to delay the vote until after the by-election, it looks like Labour is now deciding when and how the vote will play out with maximum damage to the government. The crisis of confidence in its leadership meant last week was one of Labour's very worst. But it has grasped this political opportunity smartly, and it looks like the spotlight will soon be back on Tory tensions.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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