The Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, will miss Monday’s crucial Brexit debate in the House of Commons because he is self-isolating while a member of his household awaits the result of a Covid-19 test.

MPs are set to debate the government’s internal market bill, which includes clauses ministers have conceded would break international law if enacted. But a Labour spokesperson said Starmer would not be participating in the debate.

“This morning Keir Starmer was advised to self-isolate after a member of his household showed possible symptoms of the coronavirus. The member of his household has now had a test. In line with NHS guidelines, Keir will self-isolate while awaiting the results of the test and further advice from medical professionals,” the spokesperson said.

The internal market bill aims to enforce compatible rules and regulations regarding trade in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Some rules, for example around food safety or air quality,  which were formerly set by EU agreements, will now be controlled by the devolved administrations or Westminster. The internal market bill insists that devolved administrations  have to accept goods and services from all the nations of the UK – even if their standards differ locally.

This, says the government, is in part to ensure international traders have access to the UK as a whole, confident that standards and rules are consistent.

The Scottish government has criticised it as a Westminster “power grab”, and the Welsh government has expressed fears it will lead to a race to the bottom. If one of the countries that makes up the UK lowers their standards, over the importation of chlorinated chicken, for example, the other three nations will have to accept chlorinated chicken too.

It has become even more controversial because one of its main aims is to empower ministers to pass regulations even if they are contrary to the withdrawal agreement reached with the EU under the Northern Ireland protocol.

The text does not disguise its intention, stating that powers contained in the bill “have effect notwithstanding any relevant international or domestic law with which they may be incompatible or inconsistent”.

Martin Belam and Owen Bowcott

It is understood Starmer has not experienced any coronavirus symptoms. Labour said he received the news just after leaving the LBC studio, where he took part in a phone-in.

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If the test is positive, the Labour leader’s period of isolation would be likely to extend into Connected, the event replacing this year’s party conference that is scheduled to be held largely online. Starmer had been expected to make a speech at a public venue during the event.

It is unclear which member of Starmer’s household has been experiencing symptoms; but he has two school-age children.

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Labour later said shadow business secretary Ed Miliband would stand-in for Starmer at this afternoon’s debate.

Starmer has toed a careful line on Brexit since becoming Labour leader, insisting last December’s general election result means the issue is now resolved, and urging the government to focus on tackling the pandemic.

He told LBC on Monday morning that “the vast majority of the population” would say to Boris Johnson: “get on with it.”

Starmer’s test comes as a new “rule of six” comes into force in an effort to limit the size of social gatherings and prevent Covid-19 infections from running out of control.

Official figures have shown a rapid increase in new cases in the UK, to more than 3,000 a day.

Starmer challenged Johnson last week at prime minister’s questions about the availability of tests, with widespread reports suggesting they are difficult to obtain, and many patients are being sent on long journeys to testing centres.



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