Starmer faces plot by Labour rebel MPs to force Commons vote on Gaza ceasefire

Labour left-wingers hope to ‘flush out’ more opposition to leader’s stance with debate in parliament

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Monday 06 November 2023 19:12 GMT
Keir Starmer says ceasefire in Gaza is not 'correct position'

Sir Keir Starmer is facing a rebellion by left-wing Labour MPs who are trying to force a vote on a Gaza ceasefire in parliament, The Independent understands.

The Labour leader is under growing pressure to change stance as his party suffers a major split on his refusal to back a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

At least 18 Labour frontbenchers have defied Sir Keir’s position, while more than 30 councillors have quit the party and more than 330 local leaders have urged him to back down.

Some Labour MPs hoping to engineer a vote believe it could be a “cathartic” moment that would “flush out” more opposition, and force Sir Keir to recognise how unpopular his views are with supporters.

One option would be to work with the SNP on an opposition day debate on a ceasefire – possibly as soon as this week – which would end with a non-binding vote.

Another option is an effort by Labour backbenchers to call an emergency debate, under the Standing Order 24 rules employed during the Brexit battles – but it would have to be sanctioned by the speaker.

One Labour left-winger told The Independent they were looking at several possible options – including working with the SNP. “There ought to be a vote in the Commons,” they said.

Another Labour MP opposed to the leader’s stance said: “There will be pressure from the powers that be not to allow it – but there are ways to force an indicative vote.

“It would force the issue, and flush some more MPs and frontbenchers out as backing a ceasefire. It will allow some MPs to say to their own voters, ‘You can hold your nose and vote for me’.”

Sir Keir is under growing pressure to change his stance

They added: “It could be cathartic. The [party] may decide you can vote your conscience on this one. With so many councillors resigning, I think they’re beginning to realise this issue could go badly wrong very quickly. The story isn’t going away.”

A third Labour MP opposed to Sir Keir’s stance conceded that efforts to force a meaningful vote on a ceasefire would be “challenging” – pointing out that an emergency debate wouldn’t necessarily be voted on.

The backbench MP said they “hoped” that the Labour leader could move towards a ceasefire and find a way of pulling the party together again.

“At some point, the leadership has to give, because it seems the US are putting pressure on Israel and don’t seem to be having a great deal of success,” they said.

A left-wing Labour MP told Sky News: “We are looking to secure [Commons] debates and votes on this, by hook or by crook. We are looking at all potential routes, no stone will be unturned.”

Sir Keir continues to resist calls for a ceasefire in Gaza – arguing that the terrorist group Hamas would be “emboldened” by such a move.

The Labour leader upset many in the party by appearing to say in an LBC Radio interview that Israel had the “right” to cut off water and energy to Gaza. He clarified his views 10 days later, insisting: “I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines.”

The Labour leader at the South Wales Islamic Centre mosque

Burnley’s council leader Afrasiab Anwar and 10 other councillors quit Labour on Sunday, describing their memberships as “untenable” given Sir Keir’s refusal to go beyond his call for “humanitarian pauses”.

Mr Anwar said: “We just can’t stand by watching and being part of a party that is not speaking out … I just don’t think the message is getting through in terms of how our communities, right across the board, are feeling about this.”

Frontbencher Lucy Powell, shadow leader of the Commons, told Times Radio the party was united on wanting “to see an end to this cycle of violence, an end to the needless loss of life, the hostages returned and an end to that hostage situation”.

She added: “I think also, in the Labour Party, what we do all agree on is ... the only way we will see an end to that cycle is through a peaceful, political solution based on a two-state solution, based on a free and secure Palestine and a free and secure Israel.”

Meanwhile, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into whether genocide is at risk of taking place in Gaza.

“The ICC should not just investigate the crime of genocide, but every single war crime committed by all parties over the past month,” the independent MP wrote in an article for Al Jazeera.

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