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Israel-Palestine war: Labour MPs revolt against Starmer by backing Gaza ceasefire

Parliamentary vote exposes Labour divisions, with eight members of Keir Starmer's front-bench team quitting or being sacked for supporting ceasefire
Pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside the Houses of Parliament during Wednesday's vote (AP)

A UK parliamentary vote on a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza has exposed divisions within the opposition Labour Party as dozens of MPs defied leader Keir Starmer by supporting calls for an immediate halt to the fighting.

Eight shadow ministers were among 56 Labour MPs to vote in favour of the motion on Wednesday evening, which was proposed by the Scottish National Party (SNP).

All eight front-bench MPs, including Yasmin Qureshi, Naz Shah and Afzal Khan, either resigned from Starmer’s team or were removed from their front-bench roles for failing to back the party's position on the conflict between Israel and Hamas

Qureshi said: “The scale of bloodshed in Gaza is unprecedented. Tonight, I will vote for an immediate ceasefire. We must call for an end to the carnage to protect innocent lives and end human suffering. With regret, I have stepped down as shadow women and equalities minister.”

Khan said: "If we had a ceasefire yesterday, 144 Gazan children would be alive today. Israel has already crossed every red line possible and broken international humanitarian laws."

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Jess Phillips, another prominent MP who quit her front-bench post, said in a resignation letter: "On this occasion I must vote with my constituents, my head, and my heart which has felt as if it were breaking over the last four weeks with the horror of the situation in Israel and Palestine.

"I can see no route where the current military action does anything but put at risk the hope of peace and security for anyone in the region now and in the future."

'I can see no route where the current military action does anything but put at risk the hope of peace and security for anyone in the region now and in the future'

- Jess Phillips MP

Another former member of Starmer’s front-bench team, Imran Hussain, last week resigned from his position to support calls for a ceasefire.

Speaking during the debate ahead of the vote, Hussain told MPs: “It is clear to me, clear to the United Nations and clear to every single aid agency operating on the ground in Gaza that a humanitarian pause just doesn’t do enough and doesn’t go far enough.

“The innocent men, women, and children of Gaza, who are trapped in the never-ending nightmare of conflict which they did not start and which they have no power to end, do not need a pause.

“They need it to stop and the only way we can achieve this is with a real and immediate ceasefire.”

Starmer, who has refused to back calls for a ceasefire, and other senior members of his shadow cabinet had proposed an alternative amendment calling for “daily humanitarian pauses”.

Labour's position is in line with the UK government which has also called for pauses in the fighting to allow for aid to be delivered into Gaza and for hostages to be released, as well as recognising Israel's right of self-defence.

It has rejected growing calls for a ceasefire, including from the United Nations, humanitarian organisations and religious leaders as the Palestinian death toll from Israel’s assault on Gaza has climbed to more than 11,000 people.

Both motions were largely symbolic because of the governing Conservative Party’s majority in the House of Commons.

Follow Middle East Eye's live coverage of the Israel-Palestine war

The SNP’s motion calling for an immediate ceasefire was defeated by 293 votes to 125. Labour’s motion was defeated by 290 votes to 183.

Speaking after the vote, Starmer said: “I regret that some colleagues felt unable to support the position tonight. But I wanted to be clear about where I stood, and where I will stand.”

Keir Starmer
Labour leader Keir Starmer, pictured in parliament on Wednesday, has rejected calls to back a ceasefire in Gaza (AFP)

In a letter sent to all MPs before the vote, more than 1,000 lawyers called on the UK government to back a ceasefire and take steps to ensure it was not complicit in breaches of international humanitarian law by halting arms sales to Israel.

Large crowds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators had gathered outside the Houses of Parliament as Wednesday’s debate took place.

They were addressed by Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer’s predecessor as Labour leader and now an independent MP, who said ahead of the vote: “We’re here to get justice for the Palestinian people and my message to the MPs over there is that history will judge you for failing to call for a ceasefire when you had the opportunity to do it.”

Introducing the motion earlier, SNP spokesperson Alison Thewliss paid tribute to Vivian Silver, the veteran peace activist and former B'Tselem board member who was killed in the Hamas-led attacks in southern Israel on 7 October, during which around 1,200 Israelis were killed and around 240 taken hostage.

'My message to the MPs over there is that history will judge you for failing to call for a ceasefire when you had the opportunity to do it'

- Jeremy Corbyn MP

In response, Israel has been bombing Gaza and mounted a ground offensive into the Strip. Over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, with thousands more trapped under rubble. 

“When the attack happened, she was on the radio having a discussion from her safe room before the phone cut out. She was challenged on her views on peace in the Middle East and even at that time she said we can talk about this if I survive.

“Her bravery and her commitment to peace is what we should be listening to this afternoon.”

The SNP said following Wednesday's vote: "The SNP gave Westminster the chance to stand with the UN and international community in calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in order to protect and save lives.

"Sadly the majority of Tory and Labour MPs voted against this - they are on the wrong side of history."

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