Keir Starmer chaos as frontbenchers quit to back ceasefire in Commons11/16/2023
Keir Starmer surfaces at Scottish whisky distillery 400 miles from Westminster as allies warn his MPs they are not in a ‘protest party’ after 10 frontbenchers quit to back Commons call for ceasefire
Keir Starmer put distance between himself and mutinous pro-Palestinian Labour MPs today – as he travelled to a Scottish whisky distillery 400 miles from Westminster.
Sir Keir sent out close allies to face the cameras in London this morning and warn rebels to stop acting like they are in a ‘protest party’, after 10 frontbenchers quit their jobs to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.
Shadow defence secretary John Healey said that the party, which has a massive poll lead over the Tories, must act as if it is already in government.
But the Labour leader himself was admiring barrels of delicious scotch in Fife, north of Edinburgh amid the fallout from last night’s Commons revolt that saw 56 of his MPs defy his orders not to back a vote on a permanent end to fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Former leadership contender Jess Phillips was among the frontbenchers who quit after breaking a three-line whip ordering them to abstain on an amendment tabled by the SNP.
And there are fears that the rebellion could spread further and do major damage to the party’s election hopes. A Savanta poll has suggested that almost half of Muslim Labour supporters from 2019 are unhappy with Sir Keir’s handling of the Israel crisis.
However, two thirds of British Muslims said they still planned to vote Labour.
The MPs’ challenge to Sir Keir’s authority came despite the Labour leader having told his MPs to abstain from the vote on the SNP amendment to the King’s Speech.
He had instead ordered his parliamentary party to vote for a bland amendment he tabled himself, which supported ‘humanitarian pauses’ in the conflict. The revolt is the largest the Labour party has suffered under Sir Keir’s leadership.
Political dram-a: Sir Keir Starmer visited a whisky distillery today after a huge Labour revolt in the House of Commons last night saw 56 of his MPs back calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas
The Labour leader issued a statement after an extraordinary Commons revolt last night saw 56 of his MPs defy him to back a permanent end to fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Jess Phillips (pictured) quit the Labour front bench after she broke ranks with her party leader Sir Keir and disregarded a three-line whip he had imposed on the ceasefire amendment
In a resignation letter to Sir Keir, which she posted on Twitter, Ms Phillips wrote: ‘This week has been one of the toughest weeks in politics since I entered Parliament’
The Labour leader said he ‘regret[s] that some colleagues felt unable to support the position tonight’ but that he wanted to be ‘clear about where I stood and where I stand’.
The evening’s vote was held as pro-Palestinian supporters staged a large demonstration outside Parliament.
The crisis in the Middle East, sparked by the Hamas terrorist atrocities on 7 October, had already caused weeks of discomfort for Sir Keir as he battles with the huge divisions within his party.
But, despite the major Commons rebellion against him tonight, Sir Keir stuck to his stance on wanting humanitarian ‘pauses’ – rather than a full ceasefire – as he declared ‘leadership is about doing the right thing’.
The Labour leader also reiterated his support for Israel’s right to self-defence in the wake of the Hamas attacks.
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps swiped that those MPs voting for a ceasefire were ‘essentially voting to give Hamas the green light to commit further terrorist atrocities’.
Thousands of pro-Palestine protesters gather in Parliament Square, Westminster this evening
There is a heavy police presence at the pro-Palestine protest in Westminster this evening
This evening’s vote was held as pro-Palestinian supporters staged a large demonstration outside Parliament
MPs voted 293 to 125, majority 168, to reject the SNP’s King’s Speech amendment calling for ‘all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza.
Along with the 56 Labour MPs, it was supported by 39 SNP MPs, 15 Liberal Democrats and independent MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and Andy McDonald.
There are a total of 198 Labour MPs, which means more than one-quarter of Sir Keir’s party rebelled against him this evening.
Those 10 Labour MPs who left Sir Keir’s front bench tonight after backing a ceasefire included eight shadow ministers.
They were Ms Phillips, Paula Barker, Rachel Hopkins, Afzal Khan, Sarah Owen, Yasmin Qureshi, Naz Shah and Andy Slaughter.
Dan Carden and Mary Foy also left their roles as parliamentary private secretaries.
Shortly after tonight’s vote, Ms Phillips announced she had quit as shadow minister for safeguarding and domestic abuse.
In a resignation letter to Sir Keir, which she posted on Twitter, she wrote: ‘This week has been one of the toughest weeks in politics since I entered Parliament.
‘I have tried to do everything that I could to make it so that this was not the outcome, but it is with a heavy heart that I will be leaving my post in the shadow Home Office team.
‘On this occasion 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.
‘I can see no route where the current military action does anything but put at risk the hope of peace and security for anyone in the region now and in the future.’
Yasmin Qureshi announced her resignation as shadow minister for women and equalities in order to vote for the SNP amendment
Fellow Labour shadow ministers (left to right) Naz Shah, Helen Hayes and Afzal Khan also backed calls for a ceasefire
The Labour rebellion came despite Sir Keir having told his MPs to abstain in a vote on the SNP amendment to the King’s Speech
The Labour leader had instead ordered his parliamentary party to vote for a bland amendment he tabled himself, which supported ‘humanitarian pauses’ in the conflict.
Ms Qureshi had already announced her resignation as shadow minister for women and equalities prior to tonight’s vote, as she criticised Sir Keir’s support for humanitarian ‘pauses’ rather than a ceasefire.
In a letter to her party leader, she wrote: ‘The situation in Gaza desperately requires an immediate ceasefire to address the humanitarian catastrophe and to advance moves towards a political solution that brings freedom, prosperity, and security.
Who quit the Labour shadow cabinet?
Eight shadow ministers quit the Labour front bench:
- Paula Barker
- Rachel Hopkins
- Afzal Khan
- Sarah Owen
- Jess Phillips
- Yasmin Qureshi
- Naz Shah
- Andy Slaughter
Two parliamentary private secretaries also quit the shadow government:
- Dan Carden
- Mary Foy
‘Only through a humanitarian ceasefire can aid be reliably delivered into Gaza. Along with the UN and other humanitarian agencies, I believe that the scale of need is so high that ‘pauses’ cannot offer the time and security needed to meet even basic civilian needs.
‘Anything short of a ceasefire will lead to the loss of more lives.’
Mr Khan also resigned as a shadow trade minister just ahead of tonight’s vote, posting on social media: ‘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.’
Ms Foy left her role as a parliamentary aide to Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner after she backed a ceasefire.
In the Commons debate prior to voting on the King’s Speech, Ms Shah said a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ is taking place in Gaza as she backed calls for an ‘immediate ceasefire’.
The shadow Home Office minister told the Commons: ‘I will be supporting the amendment which seeks an immediate ceasefire.’
The Bradford West MP also invoked Robin Cook, who resigned from Sir Tony Blair’s Cabinet over the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
‘Make no mistake, this is a humanitarian catastrophe which is why I urge members to back an immediate ceasefire on all sides and push for the release of hostages,’ she said.
Ms Hayes, a shadow minister for children and early years, said her ‘conscience’ told her she should back a ceasefire.
‘We must all of us be able to stand in front of our own constituents with integrity and at peace with our own conscience on the issues that matter most to them.
‘My conscience tells me that I must call for a ceasefire today,’ the Dulwich and West Norwood MP said.
Sir Keir’s stance on the Middle East conflict has led to deep internal splits within his party. He has backed the Government’s position of pushing for humanitarian pauses in the fighting to allow aid to reach Palestinians trapped in Gaza.
But Sir Keir has stopped short of calling for a total cessation of hostilities and repeatedly backed Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of the 7 October attacks.
Several shadow ministers had already openly called for a ceasefire and dozens of councillors have resigned from Labour over Sir Keir’s refusal to back a permanent halt to the violence.
Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf has said he is ‘beyond angry’ with MPs who refused to back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and warned they were ‘on the wrong side of history’.
And as the SNP amendment fell, Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf has said he is ‘beyond angry’ with MPs who refused to back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and warned they were ‘on the wrong side of history’.
SNP leader Mr Yousaf, who was recently reunited with his Palestinian in-laws after they returned to the UK from the warzone in Gaza, said the vote was a chance to ‘put humanity before politics’.
He said one child has been killed every 10 minutes in Gaza, a statistic sourced from the World Health Organisation. Mr Yousaf said the death toll of 4,500 children killed in a month during the Israel-Hamas war was ‘senseless’, and urged the public to speak out against the bloodshed.
Labour MP John McDonnell said that Sir Keir Starmer would ‘not necessarily’ face long-term damage from the ceasefire vote ‘as long as he learned lessons from it’.
Mr McDonnell said MPs should have been allowed a free vote and he did not understand the basis for Sir Keir’s position. ‘I think he is going against the stream, both in terms of what people want but also the basis within the Labour Party as well,’ he told ITV’s Peston programme.
Ex-Labour MP Diane Abbott hit out at Sir Keir and the vote against supporting a ceasefire, saying: ‘Keir Starmer said this evening ‘Leadership is about doing the right thing’. But the right thing tonight was voting for a ceasefire.’
She added: ‘Tonight parliament could have voted for a ceasefire. Sadly, it chose not to. The clear implication is that many are content to let violence continue and let the bodies pile higher. I voted for a ceasefire. I am pleased to say over 120 MPs voted the same way.’
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said he voted with Sir Keir ‘without hesitation’, saying that calls for an immediate ceasefire ‘melt under scrutiny when asked how such a ceasefire might be achieved’
Ex-Labour MP Diane Abbott hit out at Sir Keir and the vote against supporting a ceasefire, saying: ‘Keir Starmer said this evening ‘Leadership is about doing the right thing’. But the right thing tonight was voting for a ceasefire’
She criticised the Labour leader’s stance in support of a humanitarian pause, adding: ‘I did not vote for a ‘humanitarian pause’ as it provides no real relief from the violence. The vote means Britain’s voice will not be added to the growing clamour for a ceasefire. But we can say that the peace party in this country has found its voice and continues to grow.’
SNP First Minister ‘beyond angry’ with MPs who refused to back Gaza ceasefire
Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf
Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf said: ‘Today at Westminster MPs were presented with the chance to vote in favour of the SNP ceasefire. This was a plea to put humanity before politics by endorsing a ceasefire.
‘Too many parents have had to bury their children in Gaza. Too many children have become orphaned. Too many have suffered. And for far too long.
‘A ceasefire would enable a humanitarian corridor and the crucial delivery of immediate aid to those in desperate need. I am beyond angry that Scottish Labour MPs and others refused to back the calls for an immediate ceasefire.
‘They are on the wrong side of history, which is unforgivable.
‘Over 4,500 innocent children have been killed in Gaza. The World Health Organisation has reported a heartbreaking statistic a child has been killed every 10 minutes.
‘Let that sink in and know there are haunting images of tiny premature babies who have been removed from the incubators because the situation is so dire.
‘This cannot continue. Humanity must prevail through collective international pressure. A path to ending the senseless violence can and must be found.
‘We cannot allow the silent screams of the innocent to go unanswered. In the face of such profound sorrow, let all of our voices join the rallying cry of human solidarity. Take action.
‘Use your voice and I can promise you that I will continue to raise my voice to demand an immediate ceasefire.
‘We cannot allow this humanitarian catastrophe to go on for a second longer.’
But former Labour former Foreign Secretary Dame Margaret Beckett supported Sir Keir’s stance, saying there is a gap between calling for a ceasefire and an end to violence. She told the Commons: ‘Tragically, to some people, calling for a ceasefire means that Israel should stop fighting but not that anybody else should cease.’
In response to tonight’s vote, Sir Keir said in a statement: ‘On 7 October, Israel suffered its worst terrorist attack in a single day at the hands of Hamas.
‘No government would allow the capability and intent to repeat such an attack to go unchallenged. 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.
‘To stand by the right to self-defence of any nation which suffers terrorism on this scale, alongside the basic human rights and dignity of innocent Palestinians caught, once again, in the crossfire.
‘Alongside leaders around the world, I have called throughout for adherence to international law, for humanitarian pauses to allow access for aid, food, water, utilities and medicine, and have expressed our concerns at the scale of civilian casualties. Much more needs to be done in this regard to ease the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Gaza.
‘And in addition to addressing the present, every leader has a duty not to go back to a failed strategy of containment and neglect, but to forge a better and more secure future for both Palestinians and Israelis.
‘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.’
Shadow Science Secretary Peter Kyle defended the stance taken by Sir Keir Starmer, after several frontbenchers lost their jobs after backing the SNP amendment calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
‘It’s an issue of Labour policy. And actually, just because it’s an international policy doesn’t mean that it’s not a policy that we should stick together on as a team.’
He said that it was ‘not acceptable’ to back the SNP amendment. He said: ‘We have a coherent policy. Keir is leading it and it’s in step with our G7 partners. And that’s what we need to do because to have any influence in this area we’ve got to stick together as an international community.’
Mr Kyle said that Sir Keir had allowed frontbenchers to speak out on Gaza, but that indiscipline could not be allowed on a ‘key’ vote. He said: ‘We’ve seen Keir engaging with people from all communities, all traditions within the Labour Party. He has allowed people to speak out on these issues. So we have allowed as a party a very broad debate.
‘But there are key times, if you are the party that seeks to run the country and you want to be the prime minister of our country standing on the international stage, where you have to show that we are a united party that can resolve itself in Parliament and the government.’
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said he voted with Sir Keir ‘without hesitation’, saying that calls for an immediate ceasefire ‘melt under scrutiny when asked how such a ceasefire might be achieved’.
He told his constituents: ‘At best, we might see a successful Qatari-led initiative to secure the release of hostages in exchange for an extended pause or ceasefire over a period of days, which would allow aid in and civilians out.
‘I hope such an initiative is successful. This would be consistent with Keir Starmer’s calls for longer humanitarian pauses to save as many lives as possible, as quickly as possible.’
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps slammed those who voted to support a ceasefire, tweeting: ‘Voting for a ceasefire is essentially voting to give Hamas the green light to commit further terrorist atrocities.
‘If Britain had been attacked on October 7, and we knew exactly where the murderers were, would any MP seriously be voting not to go after them?
‘Israel must target Hamas proportionally & within international humanitarian law to protect civilians, de-escalate tensions in the West Bank & go ahead with meaningful humanitarian pauses to ensure aid is distributed.
‘But Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism.’
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