Keir Starmer under growing pressure to back immediate Gaza ceasefire as Momentum launches campaign

Exclusive: The left-wing campaigning group is preparing for a ‘lobbying blitz’ to put pressure on MPs to back the SNP’s call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza

Zoe Grunewald
Monday 19 February 2024 17:05 GMT
Keir Starmer has called for a ‘ceasefire that lasts’

Sir Keir Starmer is under growing pressure to back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, as left-wing organisation Momentum relaunches a mass email campaign targeting MPs ahead of a crunch Commons vote this week.

The grassroots group is planning a “lobbying blitz”, encouraging people to call on Labour MPs to back the SNP’s amendment demanding an immediate ceasefire.

The issue, to be debated on Wednesday, has become one of the greatest challenges for the Labour leader and comes three months after a third of his MPs rebelled against the party whip over a similar call.

Momentum supporters flooded Labour MPs with more than 5,000 emails in November, and the group is urging people to do the same this week.

The campaign comes just days after Scottish Labour’s conference unanimously backed an immediate ceasefire, with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar declaring himself proud of the vote and calling the SNP’s amendment “perfectly reasonable”.

Scottish Labour MPs have been warned to back a Westminster ceasefire vote after conference backed a motion on ending the conflict (PA Wire)

Speaking at the conference, Sir Keir endorsed a permanent ending of hostilities in Gaza, but stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said Labour was considering whether to back the SNP amendment. Speaking to Talk TV, he said Labour would see what the final motion looked like but added that the party would not be pushed around by protesters or political opponents.

In November, when the party resisted calls for a permanent ceasefire, 10 frontbenchers resigned their roles, while 56 Labour MPs – around a third of the party – voted against the whip.

Jess Phillips resigned her shadow cabinet position to back the amendment, stating: “I am taking a position with my heart, my head, and my constituents.”

Since then, the Palestinian death toll has risen to nearly 30,000, including more than 10,000 children, according to official figures from Palestine’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Israel’s war on Gaza could plausibly constitute a genocide, and ordered the country to take necessary precautionary action.

The Israel/Hamas conflict has spilled over into the UK’s domestic politics as protesters demand the government back an immediate ceasefire in the region (PA Wire)

The UN special rapporteur on the occupied territories, Francesca Albanese, has said that Israel appears to be in breach of the orders issued by the ICJ requiring it to take immediate steps to protect Palestinians’ rights.

The conflict in Gaza has split the Labour Party and caused some Muslim voters to withdraw their support. More than 50 Labour councillors have resigned from the party over Sir Keir’s stance on Gaza, with the party losing its majority on four councils.

A YouGov poll has shown that two-thirds (66 per cent) of the public back an immediate ceasefire, including more than 80 per cent of Labour voters.

Prominent Labour figures including Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham and Mr Sarwar have all backed an immediate ceasefire, alongside Labour’s affiliated trade unions, the TUC, and numerous Labour councils.

Momentum is encouraging its members to pressure these MPs to “vote with their conscience” and back the SNP amendment.

Some Labour MPs have already come out in support of the amendment. Beth Winter, the MP for Cynon Valley, said on Twitter/X that the party “must support an immediate ceasefire”.

”I agree with Anas Sarwar,” she said. “The ceasefire motion before parliament is positive. We can’t afford two political parties having a go at each other when what matters is the lives of people in Israel and Palestine. We must support an immediate ceasefire.”

Mary Foy, the MP for Durham, has also called for a ceasefire. Posting on X, she announced that she wouldn’t be able to vote for the amendment on Wednesday because she had suffered a bereavement, but that she had “every intention of participating in the opposition day debate on Wednesday and voting for an immediate ceasefire”.

Hilary Schan, the co-chair of Momentum, said it was “vital that every Labour MP votes for an immediate end of the bloodshed” on Wednesday.

“Every day we witness more horrific atrocities committed by Israel in Gaza – and it has to stop. Simply put, that means an immediate ceasefire and an end to Israel’s brutal war. With the government continuing to give cover to Israel, it’s vital that every Labour MP votes for an immediate end to the bloodshed when given a choice on Wednesday,” she said.

She added: “We must use every avenue to exert pressure for peace. History will not look kindly on those who fail to do the right thing.”

Labour has been approached for comment.

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