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Labour Hopes To Avert Ceasefire Vote Showdown With New Gaza Amendment

Labour has called for "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza. (Alamy)

5 min read

Labour will order its MPs to abstain on the SNP's Gaza ceasefire motion on Wednesday, instead whipping its MPs to back an amendment calling for "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza in a bid to avoid a showdown with its own MPs.

PoliticsHome understands Labour will be ordering its MPs who want a ceasefire in Gaza back their own amendment rather than support the SNP's motion. Labour's amendment will be voted on after the SNPs motion. 

A Labour source said it's "not yet clear" whether MPs who vote for SNP's motion will lose the whip, but PoliticsHome understands there are Labour MPs who are considering voting for both motions. Last month, PoliticsHome reported patience was wearing thin in the whips office with Labour rebels who broke the whip – particularly those involved in voting with the SNP on a previous ceasefire vote. 

Key differences between the party's motions include Labour's amendment including criticism of Hamas, as well as specifying any ceasefire as "humanitarian" – whereas the SNP's does not. The SNP's motion also references "collective punishment" of the Palestinian people where Labour's does not. 

The SNP's motion – which comes ahead of Israel's planned assault on Rafah which is hosting over a million displaced Gazans fleeing the fighting – has been widely seen by figures in Labour as an attempt to cause division in the parliamentary Labour party after a previous SNP ceasefire motion triggered a string of frontbench resignations. 

In November, multiple Labour frontbenchers, including senior Labour MP Jess Phillips, resigned from their posts in order to back another SNP motion in a demonstration of the strength of feeling among some MPs on the issue. During the Scottish Labour conference last weekend, Scottish Labour also unanimously passed a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. 

PoliticsHome understands Labour MPs have also been urged to share a social media clip of shadow foreign secretary David Lammy outlining Labour's reasoning for calling a ceasefire, and that it is "standing with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire".  The party's official position until Wednesday had been supporting a humanitarian truce with a view towards a "sustainable ceasefire" in the long term. 

"We have set down a motion calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire," Lammy told broadcasters on Tuesday.

"That's because the situation now in Gaza is intolerable with a dramatic loss of life, with so many people facing starvation and we are very clear that the Rafah offensive that is being planned (by Israel) cannot go ahead."

PoliticsHome understands that frontbench Labour MPs met with shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and shadow development secretary Lisa Nandy, in a meeting chaired by shadow leader of the house Lucy Powell, on Wednesday to discuss "the situation in Israel and Gaza". 

"Frontbench colleagues should make every effort to attend this important meeting," a message seen by PoliticsHome read. 

One former shadow minister MP who supports a ceasefire told PoliticsHome the "optics" of Labour's being slow to call for a ceasefire were "poor" and the question remained of "whether Muslim voters will believe Labour wants a ceasefire now". 

"Labour's position, leadership's position, is essentially the same as the SNPs," the MP said. 

"We'll abstain – we should be voting for it, because there's only a few words difference, but we'll abstain."

The MP added there would likely be resignations if Labour did decide to oppose the SNPs motion. 

The issue of Labour failing to call for a ceasefire following the outbreak of the war in Gaza, following Hamas' terror attacks on Israel on 7 October, has had particular importance to certain minority groups in Labour. 

The Labour Muslim Network, for example, has repeatedly called for Labour to call for a ceasefire,  and urged Starmer to distance himself from Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely who they said was "islamophobic".

Another former shadow minister supportive of a ceasefire told PoliticsHome they welcomed the new amendment but had concerns it did not go far enough. 

"They talk about saving the hostages, but then there are many Palestinians held by the Israelis they need to be released when this exchange happens," they said. 

"And the talk about settlements is fair enough, but the existing ones are already illegal. The key point ultimately is occupation, this actually comes from occupation. I suppose you could argue that they’re saying there needs to be a settlement that ends the occupation. But overall I think there’s lots of ticks for me with the amendment.” 

A Jewish Labour Movement source told PoliticsHome they were "not surprised" by Labour's position on the amendment, and that it reflected where the movement was – and also accused the SNP of "indulging in the worst sort of student gesture politics". 

"I saw there’s a letter [the SNP leader] has put around to every MP – as if the SNP are the only ones who had any kind of moral conscience and need to dramatically draw attention to the severity of what’s going on in Gaza..." they said. 

"It underlines the fact that it’s a political wedge the Labour party for electoral reasons."

They also pointed out that the US's hardening on its position on Gaza, with the US now calling for a temporary ceasefire ahead of Israel's planned assault on Rafah, was likely an influencing factor. 

In January, PoliticsHome reported Labour had been consulting with US government figures on its policy on Gaza and were being influenced by the US position. 

"It’s important to know the party’s position needs to evolve with the wider diplomatic situation, as we get towards a more strongly worded security council motion from the US," they said. 

"It makes sense that we are in sync and aligned with the American position as the situation on the ground has unfolded with Rafah.

"This motion isn’t going to change anything, I think the fundamentals of Labour’s policy importantly remain in the same place."

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