Labour frontbenchers rebel against Sir Keir Starmer in crunch ceasefire vote

MPs voted on an SNP amendment to the King's Speech backing a ceasefire in Gaza


LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 31: Labour Party leader Keir Starmer delivers his speech on October 31, 2023 in London, England. The Labour party leader has been under pressure to articulate a policy on the Israel-Hamas war to resolve tensions within his party. Some prominent Labour politicians have vocally supported a ceasefire, while others, including Starmer, have only called for a "humanitarian pause." (Photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)

At least eight shadow Labour ministers are set to leave Sir Keir Starmer’s front bench team after they defied the party whip to support a Commons vote calling for an immediate Gaza ceasefire.

The motion, on a Scottish National Party amendment to the King’s Speech, was comfortably defeated by 293 votes by 125, a majority of 168.

But eight Labour frontbenchers, including Jess Phillips, Yasmin Qureshi, Afzal Khan, Paula Barker, Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen, Naz Shah and Andy Slaughter, all supported it, ignoring the party leadership’s order to abstain.

About 50 back bench Labour MPs also voted for the ceasefire motion.

While the debate took place anti-Israel protesters gathered outside the House of Commons urging MPs to back calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Video footage shows protesters setting off flares and chanting “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free”. The chant is understood to mean a call for the eradication of the state of Israel. 

Labour MPs were told to abstain on the SNP move and were instructed to back Sir Keir's position calling for longer "humanitarian pauses" rather than a ceasefire. Labour whips made clear before the debate that frontbenchers would face dismissal for backing the SNP amendment.

Shah, MP for Bradford West, called the situation in Gaza a "humanitarian catastrophe".

Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, said her "conscience" told her she should back the ceasefire, adding: “In calling for a ceasefire no-one is suggesting that the cessation should be unilateral or that it should be without conditions. 

“Hamas must release the hostages. In war, ceasefires do not always hold and I think we must all be realistic about the intensity of this conflict, but a bilateral humanitarian cessation of the violence, a ceasefire, is surely the minimum we should be demanding in the face of such horrific suffering."

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

"History has shown us that military action alone does not resolve conflicts and Israel's use of force will not resolve this one.

"We need to call an immediate ceasefire now. My constituents have demanded this and I will not refuse them. Supporting a ceasefire is the very least we can do."

A Labour spokesman said: "This is a whipped vote and every MP knows what the consequence of that means.”

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has said Parliament must "show moral leadership" and vote in favour of backing an immediate cessation of hostilities.

In a letter to MPs, Flynn added: "By refusing to join the United Nations in pressing for an immediate ceasefire, Westminster would be disregarding international law, condoning collective punishment and giving the green light to the continued bombardment of Gaza, which has seen thousands of innocent children and civilians killed.

"People understand that the conflict in the Middle East is full of complexity. But amidst all that complexity, they also recognise a very human truth. People know that what we are all watching in Gaza is wrong and they want their MPs to do the right thing, show moral leadership and press for an immediate ceasefire."

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