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Keir Starmer Hit By Frontbench Resignations And Rebellion Over Gaza Ceasefire

Dozens of Labour MPs rebelled on Wednesday night

5 min read

Around a third of Labour MPs, including multiple frontbenchers, defied the party whip and voted in favour of a Scottish National Party (SNP) amendment to the King's Speech calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The party had had ordered its MPs to abstain on the amendment, with Labour's official position being supporting "longer" humanitarian pauses and ramping up humanitarian aid - putting it at odds with a growing number of its own MPs who want a cessation of hostilities amid the spiralling death toll and worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza. 

PoliticsHome understands shadow foreign secretary David Lammy spent the day meeting with Labour MPs over the ceasefire vote, including meeting Jewish and Muslim MPs separately. The Labour whips office also had around half a dozen shadow ministers on resignation watch over the course of the day. 

But following Wednesday night's vote, Labour announced 10 of its MPs had left the frontbench after they supported a ceasefire.  Shadow home office minister Jess Phillips announced she would be resigning from the frontbench after supporting a ceasefire. 

"On this occasion I felt that 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," said Phillips in a statement. 

Multiple Labour MPs announced they would be stepping down from their frontbench positions prior to the vote, in order to support the SNP's amendment.

"The scale of bloodshed in Gaza is unprecedented. Tonight, I will vote for an immediate ceasefire," said Yasmin Qureshi Labour MP and shadow equalities minister ahead of the vote on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

"We must call for an end to the carnage to protect innocents lives and end human suffering.

"With regret, I have stepped down as shadow women and equalities minister."

Shadow justice minister, Labour MP Afzal Khan, also broke from the party line and called for a ceasefire in parliament on Wednesday and then subsequently announced he would be stepping down from the frontbench. 

"Today, I will be voting for the motion calling on the UK Govt to support a Ceasefire Now in Gaza," said Khan on X. 

"With 11,000+ Gazans killed, supporting a full & immediate ceasefire is the very least we can do.

"In order to be free to do so, I have stepped down as Shadow Minister for Exports."

And shadow devolution minister Paula Barker in a statement said she would be stepping down from her frontbench position "as a consequence of following my conscience and voting for the amendement calling for a ceasefire".

The resignations followed Labour MP Imran Hussain, who became the first shadow minister to step down from the Labour frontbench last week in order to advocate more freely for a ceasefire. 

Over 11,000 people in Gaza have been killed since the war between Israel and Hamas began after Hamas launched a terror attack in southern Israel on 7 October killing over 1,200 people.

However, despite the widespread rebellion by Labour MPs, the SNP's amendment failed to pass by 293 votes to 125. 

A shadow minister told PoliticsHome that they would be voting with the whip and were "comfortable" with Labour's position on not calling for an outright ceasefire.

However, they recognised that they were not under a great deal of pressure by constituents on this area, whereas many of their colleagues in inner-city constituencies were. 

"So I really sympathise with that, and my heart hurts when I see what is going on in Gaza," they said.

"Keir Starmer has to act like a prime minister but he has pressure on him too, so he has to square that circle and that's a really difficult thing to do."

However, when asked why calling for a ceasefire would weaken Starmer's position as a leader, they responded: "That's a good question, I'm not sure."

And a senior Labour source told PoliticsHome: "My sense is it shows the leadership is quite [...] confident of the position.

"There was a very difficult period when Keir misspoke on that LBC interview and there was a lot of internal backlash against that. He did the right thing at Chatham House and set out what his thinking was.

"There was such clarity to that speech that I think people realise that Starmer isn't going to be pushed around.

"They can't push him around like they pushed Ed Miliband around in 2014."

They added: "If you kind of ask people, yeah, they'd want the ceasefire. Who wouldn't? But this is not like waves of anger or other other than a few pockets of the country.

"There is like immense pressure on MPs from email writing campaigns and stuff from the PSC [Palestinian Solidarity Campaign]. Given that amount of ferment.

"However, I think all of the numbers show remarkable sort of discipline [in the PLP]."

In a statement after the vote, Starmer said he had "regret that some colleagues felt unable to support the [Labour party's] position tonight". 

"Alongside leaders around the world, I have called throughout

"No government would allow the capability and intent to repeat such an attack to go unchallenged," said Starmer. 

"Since then, we have also seen an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

"At every stage during this crisis, my approach has been driven by the need to respond to both these tragedies. "

He added: “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.

"Leadership is about doing the right thing. That is the least the public deserves. And the least that leadership demands.”

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