Drugs were effectively decriminalised north of the border earlier this week as prosecutors announced police would be advised to issue only a ‘recorded police warning’ to anyone in possession of drugs, including Class A heroin and cocaine.
And the Labour leader suggested he would support the step in the rest of the UK, saying it was ‘probably the right thing to do’.
However, his comments in an ITV interview were seized upon by Home Secretary Priti Patel who wrote on Twitter: ‘Drugs devastate lives. They ruin communities and tear families apart.’
She added, in a twist on ex-PM Tony Blair’s famous vote-winning ‘tough on crime’ slogan: ‘Under Keir Starmer, Labour is weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime.’
Pressed repeatedly on what he thought of the approach in Scotland – which has been backed by Scottish Labour – Sir Keir said: ‘It is probably the right thing to do. It is an independent decision that is being made.’
Sir Keir, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, insisted he was not in favour of scrapping drugs laws altogether.
‘There is a world of difference between a decision not to prosecute a particular case and ripping up the drug laws,’ he said.
‘It is not unusual in any legal system for those caught with a small amount of cannabis not to be prosecuted.’
Sir Keir Starmer is facing a storm today after backing Scotland’s controversial move to ‘go soft’ on drugs possession
His comments in an ITV interview were seized upon by Home Secretary Priti Patel
The shake-up in Scotland was announced by the country’s Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain.
It will not go to a vote because the senior law officer has the power to update guidelines issued to police. Drugs policy in the rest of the UK remains unchanged.
Drug deaths soared to a record high of 1,339 in Scotland last year, more than three and half times the rate for the rest of the UK.
Opposition leaders in Scotland have condemned the lack of parliamentary scrutiny.
‘The Scottish parliament must have a say with a full debate and vote on this topic, not just a quick Q&A session,’ said Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Jamie Greene.
‘We need to fully scrutinise the gravity of a decision of such importance and magnitude.
‘Scotland’s drug death crisis is our national shame, but the way to tackle it is to improve access to treatment and rehabilitation, not to dilute how seriously we treat possession of deadly drugs like heroin, crystal meth and crack cocaine.
‘The answer to our drugs crisis is more access to treatment, not this de facto decriminalisation by the back door.’
Tom Buchan, a former chief superintendent with now-defunct Strathclyde Police, said: ‘This is a surrender – the white flag has gone up. It will have no benefits at all and it comes in the middle of a huge drugs emergency – it’s more soft-touch nonsense.
‘I feel sorry for the officers who will have to implement this – they don’t want to be turning a blind eye to crime.
‘I don’t know who they’ve consulted on this, if anyone, but it is basically just throwing in the towel.’
The dramatic change of approach was announced by Ms Bain in her first appearance in the Holyrood chamber since being appointed Lord Advocate.
It followed a review ordered by her predecessor James Wolffe QC.
Ms Bain said: ‘As Lord Advocate, I issue guidelines to the police in relation to the operation of this scheme, including which offences may be considered for a recorded police warning.
‘These guidelines are set by me, acting independently of any other person.
‘They extend beyond drug possession offences and are therefore properly confidential. However, I can confirm the guidelines previously permitted the police to issue recorded police warnings for possession of Class B and Class C drugs.
‘I have considered the review and I have decided that an extension of the recorded police warning guidelines to include possession offences for Class A drugs is appropriate.
‘Police officers may therefore choose to issue a recorded police warning for simple possession offences for all classes of drugs.’
She said warnings would be issued only to people caught in possession of drugs and not those who supply them.
And she insisted it was not decriminalisation because recorded police warnings were an ‘enforcement of the law’.
More than 10,000 offenders a year were fined or otherwise prosecuted under the previous rules. Recorded police warnings were introduced by the SNP government for ‘low-level offences’ in 2016.
The row came as Sir Keir tried to shift Labour back to its Blairite heyday with a 12,000-word essay setting out his vision for a ‘patriotic’ party which works with business.
In a bid to distance Labour from the disastrous Jeremy Corbyn years, he praised the ‘innovative brilliance’ of the private sector and said the role of Government was to ‘be a partner to private enterprise, not stifle it’.
Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC told the Scottish Parliament this week that those caught with even the hardest Class A drugs could be given a Recorded Police Warning rather than being taken to court.
Scotland’s grim drugs toll went up 5 per cent last year, the seventh annual rise in a row, as the country continued to have the worst fatality rate in Europe
Scotland effectively decriminalised drugs on Wednesday as the SNP announced police would be advised to issue only a ‘recorded police warning’ to anyone in possession of drugs, including Class A heroin and cocaine (pictured: Nicola Sturgeon)
And he said a future Labour Government would ‘repair public finances’ and be careful to avoid wasting taxpayer cash.
The essay, published by the Fabian Society, includes no mention of ‘socialism’ but does have 29 references to ‘business’. Similarly, Mr Corbyn gets no mention while former premiers Mr Blair and Gordon Brown get two each.
The essay also makes no mention of nationalisation, even though Sir Keir stood for the party leadership last year on a platform of ‘common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water’.
Hard-Left former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the document ‘looks like the Sermon on the Mount written by a focus group’. The essay, entitled The Road Ahead, was published in the run-up to the Labour Party conference in Brighton next week.
Sir Keir, 59, also wrote that he was concerned working-class children now had fewer opportunities. He said: ‘I was fortunate enough to be the first in my family to go to university, after which I was able to pursue a rewarding career.’
He added: ‘Does a working-class child in Britain today have the same opportunities my generation did? It is hard to think they do.’
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