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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Labour Is Scrambling To Avoid A Fresh Row On Gaza Ceasefire Vote

Labour is yet to decide how to order MPs to vote in amendment to the King's Speech calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. (Alamy)

3 min read

Labour will spend the weekend deciding how or even whether to order its MPs to vote in parliament on a ceasefire in Gaza as deep divisions in the party over the issue persist.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has tabled an amendment to the King's Speech which includes a call for "the government to join with the international community in urgently pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire" between Israel and Hamas. 

More than 10,000 people in Gaza have been killed since the war between Hamas and Israel began on 7 October after Hamas killed more than 1,400 people in southern Israel in a terror attack.

If the amendment is selected by the Speaker, as is expected, it will force a vote on the issue in the House of Commons – presenting Keir Starmer with his biggest challenge as Labour leader yet given his party is increasingly divided over calls for an immediate ceasefire. 

PoliticsHome understands the decision on whether to order MPs to abstain or to allow a free vote on the issue is due to be made in the coming days, with leadership understood to be keen to avoid making a vote on a Gaza ceasefire about a row in Labour instead. 

However, while no final decision has been made, senior Labour figures already started warning its MPs that voting to support the SNP's amendment could undermine Labour in Scotland – and the party's official position will be at the very least be to not support the motion. 

Labour's current position on the conflict between Israel and Hamas is to call for a "humanitarian pause" in the fighting coupled with the ramping up of humanitarian aid to Gaza rather than a full ceasefire, mirroring that of the UK government and the United States. 

"We need a humanitarian pause – now," Starmer said during his response to the King's Speech on Tuesday.

"The hostages need to be released – now. Israel has the right and duty to defend herself, but it’s not a blank cheque.

"It must comply with international law."

However dozens of Labour MPs, including a growing number of shadow ministers, are breaking from the party's official position and calling for a ceasefire – with Imran Hussain resigning from the frontbench this week in order to advocate more freely for the position. 

"Given the crisis unfolding, I wish to be a strong advocate for the humanitarian ceasefire advocated by the UN General Secretary, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN humanitarian bodies, by numerous governments, and by leading humanitarian organisations like Oxfam, Save the Children and Amnesty International," Hussain said.

"It is clear that I cannot sufficiently, in all good conscience, do this from the frontbench given its current position."

A Labour source close to the issue also told PoliticsHome they believed that a free vote on a ceasefire would make the most "sense" given the level of division in the party. 

A shadow minister also told PoliticsHome that the Labour leader could follow the approach taken by Mark Drakeford, leader of Welsh Labour, who allowed a free vote after Plaid Cymru pushed a vote on a ceasefire in the Senedd.

Drakeford and his frontbenchers in Wales abstained on the motion, but his backbenchers were allowed a free vote – with 11 Labour Senedd backbenchers calling for a ceasefire. 

However there is scepticism among some MPs in Westminster that leadership would opt for a free vote despite the level of division in the party on the issue.

A former shadow minister told PoliticsHome while they believed a free vote "would help", they "severely doubt" leadership will opt for anything other than abstaining on the ceasefire vote. 

"It's not a vote of conscience and Keir has spent two weeks explaining why you can't have an immediate ceasefire," they said. 

"I suppose if the pauses are happening, we might be in a different place."

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