Keir Starmer hasn’t voted 48 times to take the UK back into the EU

23 February 2022
What was claimed

Keir Starmer has voted 48 times to take the UK back into the European Union.

Our verdict

This is not correct. The figure appears to be based on how Mr Starmer voted in 48 votes related to Brexit. But some of these votes were not about whether Britain should be part of the EU, and all but three took place before Britain left the EU. Mr Starmer has often opposed the Government in Brexit votes, but has also voted a number of times in support of Brexit.

He [Keir Starmer] voted 48 times to take this country back into the European Union.

He [Keir Starmer] voted 48 times to take this country back into the EU.

The Leader of the Opposition not only voted 48 times to go back into the EU...

Boris Johnson has claimed at least three times in the House of Commons that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer “voted 48 times” to take the UK “back into the European Union”. This is untrue.

We first spotted Mr Johnson making the claim during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 26 January 2022. He made it again in a statement to Parliament on 31 January and for a third time at PMQs on 9 February

The claim appears to be based on an analysis of Mr Starmer’s participation in 48 votes in the House of Commons between 2017 and 2020. But while these votes were all related in some way to Brexit and saw Mr Starmer repeatedly oppose the Government, only a handful were directly about whether Britain should be part of the EU and some were not related to the main withdrawal agreement or process around it. All but three of the votes also took place before the UK formally left the EU on 31 January 2020.  Mr Starmer has also voted a number of times in support of Brexit.

Where does the claim come from?

When we asked Number 10 what Mr Johnson’s claim was based on, it told us this was a “political question” and referred us to Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ). CCHQ sent us a list of 48 votes and said: “Through directly voting against, voting in favour of wrecking amendments and voting against eleven of the Statutory Instruments required for delivering Brexit, Keir Starmer voted to hinder our exit from the EU at least 48 times.” 

The 48 figure has also appeared in the media at least twice. It was the subject of an article by Camilla Tominey published by the Telegraph on 8 November 2021, headlined: “Sir Keir Starmer: The self-styled bastion of democracy who made no fewer than 48 attempts to block Brexit”. A similar article published the following day by the Express quoted Ms Tominey and appears to echo what she wrote. When we asked Ms Tominey about her analysis, she declined to reveal the source but provided a list of the 48 votes mentioned in her article. This list appears to be the same as the list sent to us by CCHQ.

The Telegraph and Express articles allege Mr Starmer’s votes were attempts to “block” various Brexit plans, while CCHQ said the votes served to “hinder our exit from the EU”. However, neither of these claims are the same as Mr Johnson’s repeated assertion that Mr Starmer “voted 48 times to take this country back into the European Union”. We asked CCHQ for confirmation that Mr Johnson was referring to the same list of 48 votes, and why he claimed they show Mr Starmer was voting to take the UK back into the EU, but we have not received a response.

What are the 48 votes?

The 48 votes listed in the analysis shared by both CCHQ and the Telegraph cover a wide range of issues relating to Brexit. As the list does not appear to have been published, we’ve included it in full below. The votes span a number of different pieces of Brexit-related legislation, but appear to fall into three broad categories:

  • At least six of the votes were directly to do with whether or not Brexit should happen. Some of the 48 votes could be described as a choice between whether or not the UK would leave the EU, though as they took place while the UK was still in the EU, they were not about returning to the bloc—and some might argue they were as much about how the UK should leave the EU as whether it should.

    Altogether, Mr Starmer directly voted six times against versions of the Brexit deal. In 2019, he voted against the deal put forward by then-Prime Minister Theresa May in what were known as the Meaningful Votes—once in January and twice in March 2019. (Mr Johnson also voted against it in January, but in favour of it twice in March.)

    Once Mr Johnson had become Prime Minister, Mr Starmer then voted against his EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill at its second reading on 22 October 2019. And shortly after the 2019 general election, Mr Starmer voted twice against Mr Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, at its second and third reading, though the Bill passed due to the Conservatives’ majority.

  • Most of the votes were about how withdrawal would work and what the UK’s future relationship with the EU would look like, not directly about whether the UK should be in the EU. To some, Mr Starmer’s votes on these questions could be seen as hindering the process of exiting the EU, but it would be inaccurate to say they amounted to voting to take the UK back into the EU.  

    For example, in March and April 2019 Mr Starmer voted for a “confirmatory public vote” on Brexit during the Indicative Votes process. This was narrowly defeated, but would have required a public vote on any Brexit deal before Parliament could ratify it. 

    He also voted for other procedural amendments such as the Cooper-Letwin Bill, which was designed to ensure that ministers could not allow the UK to leave the EU in a “no deal scenario” without parliamentary approval. This category also includes Mr Starmer’s votes on amendments to the withdrawal bill—some on quite specific questions. For example, Mr Starmer voted in favour of the UK seeking full membership of the Erasmus student exchange scheme, voted for Europeans who had lived in the UK for more than five years to be granted automatic citizenship and supported a move for UK ministers to “seek an agreement with Brussels to allow unaccompanied child refugees to join their relatives”.

    While many of these votes were on amendments to the withdrawal bill, none were directly on whether or not to return the UK to the EU. 

  • At least eight votes were not on the main withdrawal bill or the parliamentary process around it, but on other pieces of Brexit-related legislation. This includes votes on the Customs Bill, the Trade Bill and the Agriculture Bill.The purpose of the Customs Bill (officially the The Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill) was to allow the government to create a functioning customs, VAT and excise regime for the UK following Brexit.

    The Trade Bill, in combination with the Customs Bill, was designed so the UK could continue its existing trade policy as far as possible immediately after Brexit.

    The purpose of the Agriculture Bill was to design a replacement for the EU’s agriculture policy, which the UK left as part of Brexit. 

    The topics covered by these bills were closely linked to some of the key issues surrounding Brexit, so it may be possible to argue, as CCHQ has, that they were votes that would “hinder our exit”. However, they were not votes on whether to continue with or subsequently resume membership of the EU, as Mr Johnson has suggested. 

    It’s also worth noting that on two of the votes we’ve included in this category (the second and third readings of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill) Mr Starmer is not listed as having voted at all. 

What does Keir Starmer’s overall voting record on Brexit show?

As the list of 48 votes related to Brexit shows, the Labour leader has repeatedly opposed the Government on its specific Brexit proposals. But we could find no evidence to support Mr Johnson’s claim that Mr Starmer voted “to take this country back into the European Union” 48 times, or even that there were 48 opportunities to directly vote on such a matter.

It’s also worth noting that there are some occasions which weren’t included in the list of 48 votes supplied by CCHQ where Mr Starmer voted in support of Brexit. For example, Mr Starmer voted in favour of triggering Article 50 (the legal mechanism which had to be triggered by the government ahead of our departure from the EU) twice, at both its second and third reading in the House of Commons in February 2017. 

According to online voting records, the last vote explicitly relating to the European Union that Mr Starmer participated in appears to be the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill at its third reading on 30 December 2020, during which he voted alongside the vast majority of Labour and Conservative MPs to approve Mr Johnson’s trade bill ahead of the end of the UK’s post-Brexit transition period. 

A spokesperson for UK in a Changing Europe, an independent and politically impartial research organisation which examines the relationship between the UK and the EU, told Full Fact: “On no reading of parliamentary proceedings around Brexit can it be said that Keir Starmer voted to take the UK back into the EU 48 times. 

“He voted both to trigger Article 50 in February 2017 to start the Brexit process, and for the final Trade and Cooperation Agreement.  

“At various points he did oppose specific deals on offer—but he was joined in the opposition lobby twice on the so-called meaningful votes proposed by the May government by Boris Johnson. On other occasions he voted to try to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal, but that is not the same as voting to stop Brexit.”

48 votes on Brexit - the list in full

The list of 48 votes supplied by CCHQ does not appear to have been published, so we’re including it here for reference. We have removed the additional commentary supplied and simply listed the name of the vote and date, with either the link supplied or a corrected link where the link given no longer worked. There are a few cases where there’s some uncertainty, either over which vote was being referred to or whether Mr Starmer actually voted—where that’s the case, we’ve indicated it.

  1. European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, second reading, 11 September 2017.
  2. European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, third reading, 17 January 2018.
  3. Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, second reading, 28 January 2019. * Mr Starmer did not vote.
  4. Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, second reading, 8 January 2018.
  5. Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, third reading, 16 July 2018
  6. Trade Bill, second reading, 9 January 2018
  7. Trade Bill, third reading, 17 July 2018
  8. European Union (Withdrawal) Act main Motion (Prime Minister), first Meaningful Vote, 15 January 2019
  9. United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union, second Meaningful Vote, 12 March 2019
  10. United Kingdom’s Withdrawal from the European Union, third Meaningful Vote, 29 March 2019
  11. UK’s Withdrawal from the EU, Division 345, 27 February 2019
  12. European Union Withdrawal Act Amendment (f) - Beckett, 25 March 2019
  13. EU: Withdrawal and Future Relationship Votes, 27 March 2019
  14. Amendment (a) to the Business of the House motion, Division 402, 3 April 2019
  15. European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill, second reading, 4 September 2019
  16. European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill, third reading, 4 September 2019
  17. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, second reading, 22 October 2019
  18. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, Division 1, 20 December 2019
  19. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, Division 2, 20 December 2019
  20. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, Division 14, 20 December 2019. * We were unable to find which vote this referred to. Division 14 took place on 9 January, as detailed below at number 30
  21. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—New Clause 34— Settled Status: Right to Appeal, 7 January 2020
  22. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—New Clause 18—Fee Levels and Exemptions—Limitations on Fees, 7 January 2020
  23. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—New Clause 5—Protecting EU Citizens’ Rights—Automatic Right of Permanent UK Residence for Certain EU Citizens, 7 January 2020
  24. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—New Clause 55—Northern Ireland’s Place in the UK Internal Market, 8 January 2020
  25. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—New Clause 6—Future Relationship with the European Union—Parliamentary Approval, 8 January 2020
  26. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—Clause 37—Arrangements with EU About Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, 8 January 2020
  27. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—Clause 21—Limitation on Powers of Ministers—Regulations Connected with the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, 8 January 2020
  28. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, Division 10, 8 January 2020
  29. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, Division 11, 8 January 2020
  30. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, third reading (Division 14), 9 January 2020
  31. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, Division 24, 22 January 2020
  32. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—Clause 26—Status of EU Case Law, 22 January 2020
  33. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—Clause 26—Status of EU Case Law, 22 January 2020
  34. European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill—Clause 37—Arrangements with EU about Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, 22 January 2020
  35. Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, second reading, 18 May 2020
  36. Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, third reading, 30 January 2020.  * Mr Starmer does not appear to have voted.
  37. Remote Division Result: Agriculture Bill, third reading, 13 May 2020
  38. Exiting the European Union (Consumer Protection), Division 337, 25 February 2019
  39. Exiting the European Union (Financial Services and Markets), Division 339, 27 February 2019
  40. Exiting the European Union (Terms and Conditions of Employment), Division 340, 27 February 2019
  41. Exiting the European Union (Terms and Conditions of Employment), Division 341, 27 February 2019
  42. Exiting the European Union (Terms and Conditions of Employment), Division 342, 27 February 2019. * This is recorded in the list as Division 343, as is the following entry, but is likely to refer to Division 342.
  43. Exiting the European Union (Terms and Conditions of Employment), Division 343, 27 February 2019
  44. Exiting the European Union (Financial Services and Markets), Division 344, 27 February 2019
  45. Exiting the European Union (Electronic Communications), Division 352, 6 March 2019
  46. Exiting the European Union (Road Traffic), Division 353, 6 March 2019
  47. Exiting the European Union (Agriculture), Division 383, 27 March 2019
  48. Exiting the European Union (Agriculture), Division 384, 27 March 2019

Images courtesy of UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor, via Flickr. 

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