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Labour calls for immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza ahead of crunch Commons vote

A crunch Commons vote on Wednesday will be made on an SNP-led motion which calls for an ‘immediate ceasefire’

Archie Mitchell
Tuesday 20 February 2024 19:10 GMT
David Lammy calls for 'immediate' Gaza ceasefire

Sir Keir Starmer has called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza in a bid to stave off a mass Labour rebellion, warning: “We need the fighting to stop now.”

Ahead of a crunch vote in the Commons on Wednesday, the Labour leader met with his shadow cabinet to discuss whether to order MPs to vote for an SNP-led motion which will call for an “immediate ceasefire” in the conflict in the Middle East.

After the meeting, the party published an amendment to the motion which backs an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, but makes it conditional on Hamas downing its weapons and “releasing and returning all hostages”.

A Labour spokesperson said: “We need a massive humanitarian aid programme for Gaza. And any military action in Rafah cannot go ahead.

Labour leader Keir Starmer

“There needs to be an end to violence on all sides. Israelis have the right to the security that the horror of October 7th cannot happen again.

“We want the fighting to stop now. We also have to be clear on how we prevent the violence starting up again. There will be no lasting peace without a diplomatic process that delivers a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state.”

Sir Keir had been warned ahead of Wednesday’s vote that he faced the biggest rebellion of his Labour leadership so far.

It came just months after the Labour leader suffered a blow as 56 Labour MPs, including 10 frontbenchers, broke ranks to vote with the SNP for an immediate ceasefire.

Labour’s amendment to the SNP motion stresses that a threatened Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians are taking shelter, “risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences and therefore must not take place”.

It also notes the “intolerable loss of Palestinian life” and condemns “the terrorism of Hamas”, who continue to hold hostages.

But the key difference between Labour’s amendment and the SNP motion is a caveat that states Israel “cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence”. It adds: “Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7 October cannot happen again.”

Shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray wrote to the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn urging his party to “get behind” the amendment.

“I hope you will accept our balanced and wide-ranging amendment in good faith before the debate tomorrow so we can all turn our attention to working for the house to speak with one voice,” he said.

And Mr Flynn said Labour’s support for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza is welcome – claiming credit for having forced the party into the position.

He added: “We’ve been Westminster’s conscience on the brutality unfolding in Gaza. Our calls for an immediate ceasefire have been clear and consistent.

“Through parliamentary pressure we have inserted a backbone into the Labour Party.”

Jess Phillips, who quit the Labour frontbench over the ceasefire vote in November, has said she hopes her party and the SNP can agree the wording of a motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza ahead of a debate in the Commons on Wednesday.

Speaking at an event in London, she said: “This isn’t an issue of contention between the SNP and the Labour Party.

“The Labour Party wants an immediate ceasefire, the SNP want an immediate ceasefire, why on earth wouldn’t we work together today to show unity in the face of horror and crisis, and then all vote for the same motion together?

“Hope springs eternal that that will happen, and by hope I mean I doubt there’s any chance, but that’s what I would be seeking to do.”

Ms Phillips added: “It would be good if the Labour Party and the SNP came out today with an agreed set of words that we wished parliament to be tested against, and not the MPs to be tested against, but parliament, the British representatives and how we feel about this situation.”

And Labour MP Clive Betts, who defied the leadership to vote in favour of the last SNP-led vote, welcomed the party's call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The Sheffield South East MP told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme he thinks Labour will now “unite” behind the amendment.

He said: "It goes on to say, and it's really important this, that we want to work for a two-state solution, which [Israeli PM Benjamin] Netanyahu has rejected.

"So, there's a major challenge there. We say that the Palestinians have a right to statehood, an inalienable right of the Palestinian people. It's not in anyone's gift to allow them to have their own country.

"That's a really firm, strong statement, which I think the party will unite behind absolutely. I think many, many people ... will see that as a really strong commitment from Labour."

The Labour amendment still had critics on the left, with Diane Abbott, who is suspended by the party, describing it as “full of weasel words”.

She added: “If Starmer really wanted a ceasefire he would table a simple amendment saying that. Instead, he tables one full of weasel words.

“It gets Labour MPs under pressure off the hook, but means he can say afterwards his position has not changed.”

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