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Real bipartisan legislative efforts are rare in Washington, DC, these days, but Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Joe Manchin and Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Roger Marshall have managed to come together to co-sponsor a bill focused on crypto crime. 

According to the senators, the Digital Asset Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2023 aims to close loopholes in the nation’s Anti-Money Laundering rules. The bill would amend the Bank Secrecy Act and would designate a diverse range of digital asset providers as financial institutions. 

The Bank Secrecy Act establishes program, recordkeeping and reporting requirements for national banks, federal savings associations, federal branches and agencies of foreign banks. Digital asset providers would be required to adhere to many of the same regulations as traditional banks.

Warren introduced the legislation to the United States Senate on July 27, 2023, on behalf of herself and Senators Joe Manchin, Roger Marshall and Lindsey Graham. The bill was then referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. It hasn’t been voted on by the entire Senate or sent to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration. Nor has President Biden signed it, and it is not a matter of law at this time. 

The legislation would add several types of cryptocurrency providers to U.S. regulators’ list of financial institutions. These include unhosted wallet providers, digital asset miners and validators or other nodes that validate third-party transactions, miner extractable value searchers, other validators or network participants with control over network protocols, or just about anyone else who facilitates or provides services related to exchange, sale, custody or lending of digital assets.

All these organizations and individuals would be subject to the same regulations currently applied to financial institutions in the United States. The bill does include exceptions for those who use distributed ledger, blockchain technology or similar technologies for internal business purposes. 

Crypto under federal review

If the bill becomes law, within 18 months of its enactment, the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network would announce that any U.S. person with $10,000 in digital assets or one or more digital assets overseas would have to file a report. Within the same timeframe, the U.S. Treasury would establish controls to mitigate unlawful financial risks associated with digital asset mixers and anonymity-enhanced cryptocurrency. 

North entrance of the U.S. Treasury building, Washington, DC. (Wiki Commons)

Within two years of the bill’s enactment, the Treasury, in consultation with the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, will create a risk-focused examination and review process for those digital asset participants newly designated as financial institutions. They would determine if efforts to stop money laundering and to counter crypto-funded terrorism are adequate and if crypto providers and facilitators are compliant with the new rules. Subsequently, within the same time frame, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will consult with the Treasury on exactly the same matters. 

What about my favorite BTC kiosk?

The next part of the bill is focused on digital asset kiosks. Within 18 months of the bill’s passage, FinCEN will require digital asset kiosk (ATM) owners and administrators to submit and update the physical address of their kiosks every 90 days. The kiosk owners will also need to verify the identity of each customer using a valid form of government-issued identification, and they will have to collect the name and physical address of each counterparty to each transaction. 

Within 180 days, FinCEN will issue a report about any digital asset kiosks that haven’t been registered. The report would include an estimate of the number of unregistered kiosks, their locations and an assessment of additional resources that FinCEN might need to be able to investigate them.

Within a year of the enactment of the legislation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency would issue a report identifying recommendations to reduce drug trafficking and money laundering associated with digital asset kiosks. 

Bitcoin ATM in a liquor store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Wikimedia Commons)

Crypto industry impact

Grant Fondo, co-chair of Goodwin’s digital currency and blockchain practice and a former Assistant U.S. attorney, tells Magazine that “the bill is an attempt to pull more players in the digital asset industry within regulatory control, to close gaps in what some in Congress see as not covered under the current regulatory regime.” 

Fondo believes that, if passed, the legislation would have the practical effect of killing decentralized finance in the U.S. by applying an unworkable regime on DeFi protocols. Fondo sees the legislation as imposing a burden on validators and miners and also questions how realistic it would be to impose bank-like requirements on a software company validating blockchain transactions. 

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Hadas Jacobi, an attorney in the Financial Industry Group at Reed Smith who previously worked as a financial enforcement regulator for the State of New York, agrees. According to Jacobi, the act would apply Bank Secrecy Act requirements, depending on the context, to crypto participants that are not financial institutions.

“The act could be read as applicable to programmers and other tech providers who create the framework for financial services operations rather than provide services themselves,” Jacobi says.

Key Bank Secrecy Act /Anti-Money Laundering collaboration mechanisms. (U.S. Government Accountability Office)

Although Jacobi believes there is a need for legislative clarity in the space, she questions whether the primary intent of the legislation — the crypto sector’s threat to national security — is even relevant. Jacobi says that on-point regulation of cryptocurrency and digital asset services providers is necessary, but digital assets do not threaten national security.

“A general statement that digital assets pose a threat to U.S. national security, however, would be both inaccurate and short-sighted. Bad actors in the digital asset space pose a global threat from both a national security and a financial stability standpoint — but the digital asset industry and its underlying technology do not,” Jacobi says.

What the politicians are saying

In a written statement, Senator Marshall says that the bill addresses U.S. concerns about national security.

“This legislation is a matter of national security. Mastermind hackers from adversarial countries like Iran, Russia, and North Korea are committing cybercrimes against the United States to the tune of BILLIONS of dollars; they must be held accountable. The reforms outlined in our legislation will help us fight back and secure our digital assets by using proven methods that our domestic financial institutions have been complying with for years,” Marshall states.

Marshall says that the legislation would extend Bank Secrecy Act responsibilities to include Know Your Customer requirements for those affected, would address a “major gap” with unhosted digital wallets, would direct FinCEN to issue guidance on financial institutions to mitigate digital asset risks, would strengthen enforcement of BSA compliance, would extend BSA foreign bank account rules to include digital assets and would mitigate illicit finance risks of digital asset ATM’s. 

Warren argues that U.S. authorities have warned that crypto is being used for all types of crimes and for antagonistic nations to avoid U.S. sanctions.

“Rogue nations like Iran, Russia and North Korea have used digital assets to launder stolen funds, evade American and international sanctions, and fund illegal weapons programs,” Warren says.

Suggesting that the act will help to subvert these efforts, Warren focuses her statement on North Korea’s missile program.

“Nearly half of North Korea’s missile program, for example, is estimated to be funded by cybercrime and digital assets. In 2022, illicit digital asset transactions totaled at least $20 billion — an all-time high,” Warren writes. 

Manchin asked Democrats and Republicans to come together and vote for the bill. “Our bipartisan legislation would curtail these security risks and require cryptocurrency platforms to abide by the same Anti-Money Laundering rules that banks have to follow. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this common-sense legislation to protect Americans by preventing bad actors from using cryptocurrencies to finance their criminal activities,” Manchin says.  

Fondo doesn’t see how the Anti-Money Laundering Act could minimize risks to national security but does recognize how the bill might address issues associated with anonymity-enhanced cryptocurrency.

Still, he would like to see this legislative effort well thought out before passing the bill. “No one wants terrorists and criminals masking their financial transactions. But conversely, privacy is a rare commodity, so it’s important to properly balance it with national security,” Fondo says. 

Jacobi is concerned that overregulation will lead to redundancy and excessive costs that will drain the industry. She says that the act would direct FinCEN to regulate digital service providers as money transmission businesses, although she believes that they have already been doing that since 2013. Furthermore, she says that most state regulators have been examining and registering them for almost as long. 

“The Act has the potential to upset the balance of the existing U.S. dual state and federal regulatory regime by creating redundancies in the supervision and examination of money transmission businesses, not to mention exposing the digital asset industry to resource-draining, duplicative enforcement actions,” Jacobi says. 

Will the bill become law?

It’s anybody’s guess. The House of Representatives is just getting back on its feet after struggling for weeks to elect a new speaker. 

The U.S. Senate still requires a supermajority vote to approve almost any piece of legislation, and all the while, members of Congress and President Joe Biden are hyper-focused on geopolitical matters like the Israel/Hamas conflict and the war in Ukraine. 

Also, most U.S. federal-level politicians are about to enter the 2024 election season, where control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Presidency are all up for grabs. 

Controversial legislation will certainly stall until after the election, but a potentially popular crypto bill might just be palatable to candidates on both sides of the aisle to find its way onto the president’s desk. If the Digital Asset Anti-Money Laundering Act were to become law, many cryptocurrency providers would have to learn how to comply with the same regulations as traditional financial institutions. 

Mitch Eiven

Mitch is a writer who covers cryptocurrency, politics, the intersection between the two and a handful of other, unrelated topics. He believes that crypto is the future of finance and feels privileged that he has opportunities to report on it.

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Electoral Dysfunction: The Tory leadership hopeful building their support almost entirely hidden from view

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Electoral Dysfunction: The Tory leadership hopeful building their support almost entirely hidden from view

For weeks – months even – we’ve been watching a beauty parade on the Conservative benches preparing for life after Rishi Sunak as various MPs hook up with various groupings of Conservative backbenchers hoping to garner support for the moment when the ball comes out of the scrum.

On the right, we have seen the ‘five families‘ of right-wing groupings, led by leadership hopefuls Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick, trying to garner grassroots support by bouncing the prime minister (while Godfather fans will no doubt enjoy the reference to the five leading mafia dynasties of New York City, in the end there was little bloodletting and the prime minister won the day).

Then we have the Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt on manoeuvres – with briefings from ‘friends’ of the former distancing the cabinet minister from the prime minister’s Rwanda approach, while the latter is hitting the grassroots circuit hard while wooing those new candidates that might end up in the Conservative class of 2024.

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On Electoral Dysfunction this week, Ruth, Jess and I also had a chat about another contender flying below the radar but definitely positioning – Priti Patel. A former darling of the right, she was overtaken amid the demise of Boris Johnson by Ms Braverman, Ms Badenoch and Liz Truss. But now, the former home secretary and key Johnson ally is back, building her base almost entirely hidden from view.

One MP is on manoeuvres to take over the party if they lose the next election. Pic: PA
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One MP is on manoeuvres to take over the Tory party if they lose the next election. Pic: PA

My ears were first pricked in December when I was talking to a senior figure in the ‘One Nation’ wing of the party – that is home to Tory MPs who are more socially liberal and politically positioned on the centre-right.

As this figure was bemoaning the horrors, as they saw it, of a Braverman leadership bid after the election, they told me that Priti Patel was at least someone on that wing of the party they could do business with. The former cabinet minister acknowledged that the right is likely to take the leadership crown after the election, given the leanings of the Conservative party members who get to choose, and that Patel looks, for now, the pick of an unpalatable bunch for Tory centrists.

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Priti Patel walks on the day of the Britain's Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester
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Priti Patel is said to be on manoeuvres. Pic: Reuters

And then earlier this month, up Priti Patel popped at the launch of a new grouping – the Popular Conservatives – spearheaded (I know, the irony isn’t missed on me) by Liz Truss.

She is a politician building alliances over all sorts of groupings and even cross-party: when I raised Priti Patel as my dark horse in the likely up-and-coming leadership race, it certainly chimed with Ruth and Jess, with the latter telling us how surprised she’d been when former home secretary Amber Rudd, very much a One Nation Conservative, told her over dinner how she worked well with Priti: “I remember being like, how is this?”

Jess also told me how Patel was with her after MP Sir David Amess was murdered in his constituency: “Those of us who are the highest security risk, of which I am one of ten, they really ramped up our security on these occasions, as they always do in these moments.

“And Priti Patel [who at the time was home secretary] was really good friends with David.

“I mean she was his [constituency] neighbour. And every Sunday night, for four weeks, at about 9pm at night, she would ring me and ask if I was all right. You don’t forget that sort of thing.”

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It’s particularly pertinent this week as concerns over MPs’ safety come to the fore over the divisive vote around a ceasefire in Gaza. In the week parliament finally backed an immediate ceasefire – a position which has taken Labour months to move to – this significant moment was drowned out by the spectacle of wrangling and rows over parliamentary procedure and partisan point-scoring from which no one emerged well.

The Speaker has had a particularly torrid 24 hours as dozens of MPs called for him to go after Sir Lindsay Hoyle broke decades of parliamentary precedent to allow all three main parties to put their position on a ceasefire to a vote.

The effect was to let Labour off the hook by avoiding a massive rebellion because it meant Starmer’s MPs could vote for the Labour ceasefire amendment instead of having to defy the whip and support the SNP ceasefire motion. But the Speaker was clear his motive was all about MPs’ safety.

There are those in parliament – like Rishi Sunak – who believe strongly concerns over MPs’ safety shouldn’t ever influence business in the Commons, not least because it could set a dangerous precedent of MPs being intimidated in order to change what they debate and how they vote.

But there is also a lot of chatter on some of the female MPs’ WhatsApp groups about their experiences and concerns over threats, with some – particularly Labour women – having to deal with physical confrontations with protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict.

One Conservative MP told me this week she was “riddled with anxiety” ahead of this week’s vote over what to do. “I’m angry that we’re being put in this position,” she told me.

“We get cast as either child murderers or antisemitic and I’m neither. I believe a nation has a right to defend itself against terrorists but I’m also a pacifist.

“There is no nuance in [this] vote, which is totally irrelevant anyway, just a binary perception of whether you’re for or against a ceasefire.”

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Starmer denies threatening Speaker

So for all of those MPs angry at Sir Lindsay, there are others who are quietly thankful that he takes their safety so seriously and tried to cushion the fallout of this divisive SNP opposition day.

For now, it looks like he’s staying in post. What I can also confidently say will be a mainstay of this year is MPs’ safety, as we head into what is almost certainly going to be a very nasty election campaign. Something for me, Jess, Ruth to chew over in coming episodes.

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From bodyguards to death threats – the real impact of chaos in the Commons

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From bodyguards to death threats - the real impact of chaos in the Commons

The first real crisis of Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s time as Speaker was on full display as he was forced to apologise for how a debate on Gaza descended into chaos.

While he expressed regret for how his decision to allow a Labour amendment on the SNP’s ceasefire motion had angered MPs, he made clear it was motivated by a regard for their safety – an issue that’s become more pressing since the Israel-Hamas war broke out.

Politics latest: Starmer denies threatening Speaker

Sky News has spent the day talking to MPs and their staff about their experiences – ranging from thousands of aggressive emails landing in their inboxes, to protests outside constituency offices that have left some so afraid that they have to work from home.

The constituency office of Labour MP Jo Stevens in Albany Road, Cardiff, which was sprayed with red paint and posters were put up accusing her of having "blood on her hands"
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Labour MP Jo Stevens previously had her office defaced with posters accusing her of having ‘blood on her hands’. Pic: PA

Ever since tensions over Brexit, MPs have been entitled to panic alarms in their constituency offices to notify the local police force if they are in danger.

And as part of Operation Bridger – activated following the murder of Tory backbencher Sir David Amess – police email staff every Monday to get an itinerary from each MP so they know their whereabouts and of any public-facing events.

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‘It’s starting to get him down’

One Labour staffer told us how they now felt like they acted as a “bodyguard” for their MP.

“I’ve started to walk him home, so I’m there to protect him,” they said.

“I walk five steps in front, and you do act as a bit of a bodyguard. I see it as part of the job now.”

The same staffer said the MP they worked for had now started to report tweets that labelled him a “fascist” with “blood on his hands”.

“I think it’s starting to get him down,” they said.

“Before the vote he warned us all on WhatsApp that social media and the parliamentary inbox would be ridiculous for the next 48 hours.”

The office of  Mike Freer MP  
Pic:Mike Freer
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Conservative MP Mike Freer had his office targeted by arsonists on Christmas Eve. Pic: Mike Freer

Death threats have ‘become normal’

Before the chaos in parliament unfolded yesterday, one MP told Sky News they had already received a death threat.

“We are all getting this – it’s become normal for most controversial votes now,” they said.

Last November, when Sir Keir Starmer suffered the resignation of eight shadow ministers who voted for an SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire, a protest was held outside the constituency office of one MP and the effigy of a body, along with body bags, was left outside.

At another constituency office, protesters have taken pictures and filmed staff entering and leaving the premises while directing verbal abuse at them.

The situation has become so serious that Labour staff members have been encouraged to apply for a safe gadget, also known as a lone worker gadget, which allows the user to notify police when they feel threatened.

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SNP calls on Speaker to quit

‘The fears of MPs are real’

Former minister and Tory MP Paul Scully said the “security fears of MPs were real” on Wednesday night, and as things grew more “febrile” in the Commons, there was “genuine anger” about what the consequences could be.

“I was pretty anxious when I left parliament last night,” he told Sky News.

“Last time there was a vote on a ceasefire, one of my colleagues in the Lords got really triggered by antisemitic abuse and three cameras being shoved in his face on a tube platform.

“The protests and abuse has just escalated.

“When things like last night happen in the Commons, it is just a tinderbox.”

‘Security has had to be increased’

Senior Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge told Sky News that Muslim MPs in her party were having a “terrible, terrible time” in particular, as rows over whether to back a ceasefire raged on – and voters wanted them to take a stand.

“Security has had to be increased and people have been more guarded,” she added.

But Dame Margaret backed Sir Lindsay’s attempts to widen the debate and his drive to make MPs’ safety a “priority”.

The Jewish MP said he “talked about it a lot in the early days” when he was deputy speaker, and he was “always the person to go to” when she faced antisemitic abuse during Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure leading the Labour Party.

“If you are going to have debate, shouldn’t you put it in context and let democracy prevail?” she added.

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Labour MP: ‘I got a death threat today’

‘He has given the impression of giving in to the mob’

However, former defence minister and Tory MP, Sir Alec Shelbrooke, said the Speaker’s actions should not be dictated by external forces.

“In my opinion, he has given in – or has given the impression that he has given in – to the rule of the mob,” he told Sky News.

“I believe he has made the lives of MPs less safe, which I categorically know was not his intention.”

Read more:
What happened in the Commons – and can the Speaker be sacked?
Consensus on ceasefire takes second place to political point-scoring

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, whose mother is Palestinian, said she was subject to some racist comments after last night’s parliamentary display.

But she showed some sympathy for Sir Lindsay, telling Sky News he was “put in an impossible position by a purposefully divisive motion from the SNP”.

The MP said the “core issue” was “the lack of any co-ordination between opposition parties before the debate”, adding: “We tried to coordinate with the SNP, but they didn’t listen to us.

“We didn’t have any idea what Labour were going to do.

“And meanwhile we managed to make something so serious that affects not just Palestinians and Israelis but our streets as well into something about us.”

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James Cleverly says ‘only thing MPs should fear is ballot box’ as he warns against Commons rule changes over ‘intimidation’

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James Cleverly says 'only thing MPs should fear is ballot box' as he warns against Commons rule changes over 'intimidation'

The home secretary has warned the Speaker against changing Commons conventions due to intimidation from outside parliament, telling Sky News: “The only thing MPs should fear is the ballot box.”

James Cleverly offered his support to Sir Lindsay Hoyle to stay in post – despite 67 MPs having now signed a no-confidence petition against him after Wednesday’s chaotic scenes in the Commons – calling him “a breath of fresh air”.

But he added: “We should not be changing our procedures in response to threats or intimidation. That would indicate that the threats and the intimidation is working – that is the opposite of the message that we want to send.

“If people think that they can target members of parliament, they are wrong. The full force of the law will be brought down.”

Politics live: Speaker comes out fighting

A huge row erupted on Wednesday as parliament held an opposition day debate over the Israel-Hamas conflict, with the SNP calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Pressure had been mounting on the Labour Party to move away from the government’s position of calling for a pause in fighting to echo the SNP’s stance – and they announced they would put forward their own amendment, calling for a ceasefire, albeit with a number of caveats.

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Commons conventions say that opposition motions cannot be amended by opposition parties, but Sir Lindsay took the decision to let Labour’s position be debated and voted on, claiming it gave MPs the widest range of positions to discuss and back, and citing the safety of members who were facing threats and intimidation over their position on a ceasefire.

But his decision was met with rage from the Conservatives, who pulled their own amendment and “played no further part” in the proceedings, and ended with the SNP not even getting to vote on their own motion.

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‘I have a duty of care to protect’

Despite the Speaker making two apologies in the Commons on both Wednesday and Thursday for how his decision had played out, calls for him to resign grew – led by the Westminster leader of the SNP, Stephen Flynn, who said his position was now “intolerable”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also criticised Sir Lindsay’s actions, calling them “very concerning”, while former home secretary Suella Braverman wrote an angry piece in the Daily Telegraph, saying it had “undermined the integrity of Parliament” and that “the Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now”.

Asked about his position on Sir Lindsay as the row entered its third day, Mr Cleverly said: “I think the Speaker’s done a fantastic job. I think he’s been a breath of fresh air compared with his predecessor.

“He made a mistake. He apologised for the mistake. My view is that I’m supportive of him.”

But the current home secretary said it would be down to MPs to decide his fate, adding: “The selection of the Speaker is House business and for the House of Parliament rather than for government.

“And I know that sounds like we’re dancing on the head of a pin, but in our constitution, it’s a very important division. So this is House business for members of parliament, rather than for the government.”

There is no formal way for the Speaker to be removed, but he could choose to resign if calls for him to go continue to grow – as one of his predecessors, Michael Martin, did in 2009.

However, with support from the Labour benches and senior Conservatives, Sir Lindsay could instead decide to fight on to stay on post.

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Speaker ‘cannot continue’ in role

The Tories have sought to blame Labour for the shambolic scenes in parliament this week, amplifying reports that party leader Sir Keir Starmer threatened to withdraw support from the Speaker if he did not select their ceasefire amendment.

A Conservative source told Sky News on Friday: “Starmer’s undermined parliament, bullied the Speaker into doing something he admitted was ‘wrong’, and it sadly won’t be long before more antisemitic views emerge from Labour.”

And Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho told reporters: “I think the Speaker is a decent man. He’s a really well-respected parliamentarian. I didn’t agree with the ruling that he made, but I think the real culprit here is Keir Starmer.

“I think he’s put the Speaker in an intolerable position by saying that we should bow to intimidation and external influences. No intimidation should change the way that we vote in parliament or what we vote on.”

But Sir Keir “categorically” denied making any such threat, telling reporters that when he met Sir Lindsay, he “simply urged” him to have “the broadest possible debate” by putting a number of options in front of MPs.

The Labour leader added: “The tragedy is the SNP walked off the pitch because they wanted to divide the Labour Party and they couldn’t, and the government walked off the pitch because it thought it was going to lose a vote.”

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Starmer denies threatening Speaker

Speaking to Sky News on Friday morning, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper insisted Sir Lindsay was “right” to select Labour’s amendment to the ceasefire vote – which ended up passing – “making sure the widest possible range of views can be debated, sit on and can be voted on, that is something that is good for democracy”.

But she agreed decisions on parliamentary procedure should not be made because of intimidation from outside.

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