UK Labour leader faces rebellion after refusing to back vote for Gaza ceasefire

56 Labour MPs back ceasefire call, which is defeated nonetheless; 8 members of Keir Starmer’s frontbench team resign in protest at his stance; he urges longer ‘humanitarian pauses’

A handout photo released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaking in the House of Commons, in London, November 15, 2023. (AFP PHOTO / Maria Unger /UK Parliament)
A handout photo released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaking in the House of Commons, in London, November 15, 2023. (AFP PHOTO / Maria Unger /UK Parliament)

LONDON, United Kingdom — UK Labour leader Keir Starmer was hit by a string of resignations from his frontbench in the House of Commons on Wednesday night, after facing a rebellion from his MPs over his refusal to back a ceasefire in Gaza.

A vote calling for the ceasefire was defeated by 293 votes to 168, but eight of Starmer’s frontbenchers resigned from the frontbench after supporting the amendment.

Labour MPs had been ordered to abstain on the vote and were told instead to back Starmer’s position calling for longer “humanitarian pauses,” rather than a ceasefire. In the event, however, 56 Labour MPs voted for the ceasefire.

Starmer said he regretted that party colleagues had not backed his position, but that he wanted to be clear about where he stood.

“Much more needs to be done in this regard to ease the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Gaza,” he said in a statement after the vote.

“Leadership is about doing the right thing. That is the least the public deserves. And the least that leadership demands.”

The vote took place as protesters in support of the Palestinians and against Israel demonstrated outside.

Also Wednesday, dozens of British MPs attended a screening of a film provided by Israel showing some of the worst atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists on October 7. The footage in the video was collected from call recordings, security cameras, Hamas terrorists’ body cameras, victims’ dashboard cameras, Hamas and victims’ social media accounts, and cellphone videos taken by terrorists, victims and first responders. The compilation was first shown last month to foreign press in Israel.

Protesters hold placards and flags as they chant slogans during a rally in support of Palestinians and against Israel, outside of the Houses of Parliament in central London, on November 15, 2023. (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

High-profile MP Jess Phillips, who was one of the most senior Labour MPs to resign from the party’s frontbench, said she was quitting with a “heavy heart.”

“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,” she said in a letter to her party leader.

War erupted after Hamas-led terrorists launched a devastating onslaught on Israel on October 7, in which they rampaged through southern communities, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival, and kidnapping some 240 people. Israel then declared war with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since 2007.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Tuesday that 11,500 people had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war. Its figures that cannot be independently verified, do not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives, and also include those killed in hundreds of failed Palestinian rocket launches.

The row over the Starmer’s stance on Israel’s war with Hamas has escalated in Labour in the past week.

Smoke rises during an IDF shelling in the northern Gaza Strip on November 15, 2023. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Starmer — who looks set to become Britain’s next prime minister at an election expected next year, according to polling — has refused to call for a permanent ceasefire. A centrist who rooted out antisemitism in Labour, which ran rampant under his left-wing pro-Palestinian predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer has said he would push for a two-state solution if elected to government.

The former human rights lawyer has called for a humanitarian pause to Israel’s bombardment to allow much-needed aid to reach ordinary Palestinians unable to leave the coastal enclave.

His stance, however, has caused disquiet within the party.

A Labour spokesman said a ceasefire would freeze the conflict and “leave hostages in Gaza, and Hamas with the infrastructure and capability to carry out the sort of attack we saw on October 7.”

“International law must be followed at all times and innocent civilians must be protected. Labour is calling for humanitarian pauses in the fighting,” the spokesman said.

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