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Sir Keir Starmer has U-turned on his support for drug reform, saying he would not follow a Scottish decision to give people caught with drugs a police warning instead of a court date.
The Labour leader had previously suggested the Scottish system, introduced recently by the Lord Advocate, was “probably the right thing to do”.
But in an interview with the Daily Record, Sir Keir said he did not think plans to issue police warnings rather than prosecuting people found in possession of drugs “should be of general application across the United Kingdom”.
“One of the benefits of devolution was to allow each of the nations to look separately in context at the challenges that it has,” he said. “But if I was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I would not be introducing that to the United Kingdom.”
‘Decriminalisation of possession is a no-brainer’
Paul Sweeney, a Scottish Labour frontbencher, on Friday criticised Sir Keir over his stance on drug reform, accusing him of an “ill-judged position” on the issue.
“Decriminalisation of possession is a no-brainer and anyone who doesn’t want to do it is either ignorant of the issue or is too scared to admit the reality,” he said.
Sir Keir’s shadow cabinet is understood to be divided on the issue, with senior figures in the party privately expressing support for decriminalisation and wider legal reform.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London, pledged during his last election campaign to set up a commission to explore the decriminalisation of cannabis and other schemes to reduce harm to drug users in the capital.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said he agreed with Sir Keir’s previous view that it was better to warn people caught with heroin, cocaine and crystal meth than prosecute them.
But Labour is prioritising its tough stance on crime amid concern that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership had made it appear weak on criminal justice issues.
Last month, Sir Keir told the party’s annual conference that under his leadership “the fight against crime will always be a Labour issue”. He mentioned drugs in his speech just once, to criticise Nicola Sturgeon’s policy in Scotland.