Dissent over Labour’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war is growing as a series of shadow ministers voiced their support for a ceasefire.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is supporting the Conservative UK Government’s diplomatic push for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting to allow aid into Gaza and for people trapped in the bombarded territory to leave.
But he has faced disgruntlement from within the party over his reluctance to push for a total cessation of hostilities between the warring sides in the Middle East.
On Saturday, a host of frontbench Labour MPs broke ranks with the leadership to voice their support for a ceasefire, either with express endorsements or by sharing a call from the Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East (LFPME).
What we are seeing is not defence, it is disproportionate attacks on a civilian population, I continue to call for a ceasefire to stop the killings of innocent civilians. We cannot be silent. https://t.co/6ea6vS9cg1
— Naz Shah MP 💙 (@NazShahBfd) October 28, 2023
Some of the MPs speaking out represent constituencies with prominent Muslim communities.
It comes as Israel continued to pummel Gaza into Saturday in what was said to have been one of the heaviest nights of bombing during three weeks of war.
The Israeli military announced that it was expanding its ground offensive in the vicinity of the Hamas-ruled territory after cutting off communications for its 2.3 million population.
In Britain, thousands of protesters have taken to streets across the country – including London, Manchester and Glasgow – in support of the Palestinians.
Bradford West MP Naz Shah, the shadow minister for crime reduction, tweeted: “What we are seeing is not defence, it is disproportionate attacks on a civilian population.
“I continue to call for a ceasefire to stop the killings of innocent civilians. We cannot be silent.”
Paula Barker, Liverpool Wavertree MP and shadow minister for devolution, backed LFPME’s post on X, formerly Twitter, calling for an “immediate ceasefire by all parties”, along with the “unconditional release of all hostages brutally taken by Hamas” and “unfettered humanitarian access” to Gaza.
Ms Barker shared the post, saying: “I fully support these calls.”
2 million people in Gaza have been plunged into darkness.
First it was food, water, power and medicine. Now it’s a communications and internet blackout.
It’s impossible to imagine the horror that families in Gaza are facing right now and we need a ceasefire NOW.
— Imran Hussain MP (@Imran_HussainMP) October 27, 2023
Shadow veterans minister and Luton South MP Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen, the MP for Luton North and shadow local government minister, and shadow solicitor general Andy Slaughter also shared LFPME’s post.
Shadow exports minister Afzal Khan, the MP for Manchester Gorton, retweeted the post, adding: “The loss of innocent life in Gaza is unprecedented and it cannot go on.
“We need an immediate ceasefire now.”
Jess Phillips, a shadow Home Office minister, and Opposition whip Kim Leadbeater both retweeted United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres’ restated appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
It comes after Imran Hussain, shadow minister for the new deal for working people and MP for Bradford East, tweeted on Friday that it was “impossible to imagine the horror that families in Gaza are facing” as he demanded a “ceasefire now”.
Sir Keir’s team on Saturday said the party’s position on the matter remained unchanged.
It declined to answer when asked if the shadow ministers pushing publicly for a ceasefire would be able to remain in post, having deviated from Labour’s official position.
The humanitarian system in Gaza is facing a total collapse with unimaginable consequences for more than 2 million civilians.
Needs are growing ever more critical & colossal.
Food, water, medicine & fuel must be allowed to reach all civilians swiftly, safely & at scale.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) October 27, 2023
The signs of a burgeoning front bench rebellion comes after London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar announced on Friday that they were joining the call for a ceasefire.
According to images shared on social media, pro-Palestinian supporters demonstrated on Friday outside the office of the Tower Hamlets Labour Party, an area represented by another shadow minister, Rushanara Ali, in protest at Labour’s stance.
Ms Ali, in a statement published on her website on Saturday, called for an “immediate internationally supported humanitarian ceasefire”.
The shadow small business minister said: “I condemn the violations of international humanitarian law.
“The continuing bombing by the Israeli government is causing death and destruction, and displacement on an unprecedented scale.
“We are witnessing an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe across Gaza.”
On Wednesday, Muslim Labour MPs used a meeting with Sir Keir in Parliament to call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
The Labour leader has sought to quell unhappiness over his position on the conflict, having previously appeared to have said that he supported Israel’s right to deprive Gazans of water, food and fuel in its fightback against the Palestinian militants that killed 1,400 Israelis.
The Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry has said more than 7,000 people have been killed inside the 25-mile strip of land since Tel Aviv’s October 7 retaliation started.
Sir Keir’s comments on the siege, which he has since rowed back from, prompted resignations among Labour councillors and angered the party’s MPs, including those on the frontbenches.
Multiple sources at Wednesday’s meeting, held between Sir Keir, his deputy Angela Rayner, and around a dozen Muslim MPs, including shadow minister Afzal Khan, described it as a “constructive” exercise in which they expressed their grievances and those of their constituents.
The UN General Assembly on Friday approved a non-binding resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” in Gaza which they said should lead to a cessation of hostilities.
The 193-member world body adopted the resolution by a vote of 120-14 with 45 abstentions, including the UK.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told broadcasters that Hamas had given no indication it “desires or would abide by calls for a ceasefire”.