UK parliament descends into chaos as MPs vote to back Gaza humanitarian ceasefire

Speaker under fire for allegedly showing favor to Labour, helping Keir Starmer avoid a rebellion in his party by putting forward his own amendment to SNP legislation

Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaking during the weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons, in central London on February 21, 2024. (JESSICA TAYLOR / UK PARLIAMENT / AFP)
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaking during the weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons, in central London on February 21, 2024. (JESSICA TAYLOR / UK PARLIAMENT / AFP)

UK lawmakers called Wednesday for a temporary ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, but only after dozens walked out of the House of Commons in protest at how the vote was handled.

Lawmakers had been debating three separate resolutions related to the war. All were largely symbolic and not binding on the government.

But Parliament descended into chaos as legislators from the governing Conservatives and an opposition party accused Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle of upending parliamentary procedure.

The mayhem broke out during debate on a motion from the opposition Scottish National Party, or SNP, urging an immediate ceasefire, the release of all Israeli hostages held by Hamas and “an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

The main opposition Labour Party, which is divided over how strongly to criticize Israel, submitted a tweaked version of the motion calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” and without the mention of collective punishment.

Rishi Sunak’s governing Conservatives put forward their own amendment, which backed an “immediate humanitarian pause,” followed by “moves towards a permanent sustainable” ceasefire. The government says a ceasefire can only happen if Hamas frees all Israeli hostages and relinquishes control of Gaza.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons, in central London on February 21, 2024. (JESSICA TAYLOR / UK PARLIAMENT / AFP)

When Hoyle allowed votes on all three, Conservative lawmakers were furious, saying it went against House of Commons conventions. Some accused Hoyle — who was elected as a Labour lawmaker before taking up the neutral post of speaker — of favoring the opposition.

The move helped Labour leader Keir Starmer, who avoided another major rebellion among his lawmakers on the war thanks to his proposal getting a vote. This meant Labour members of parliament could vote on their party’s plan and would not have to defy their leadership by voting in support of the SNP’s amendment.

The political mayhem is a sign of how the conflict has divided Britain’s politicians and public, sending tensions soaring.

“His decision has raised temperatures in this House on an issue where feelings are already running high,” said Penny Mordaunt, Conservative leader of the House of Commons.

The SNP, meanwhile, accused Labour of hijacking their motion, and said Hoyle had enabled them to do it.

The speaker said in a statement his decision gave the “widest possible range of options” for a vote on a “highly sensitive subject.”

Many Conservatives and SNP members walked out, and in their absence the Labour version of the ceasefire call passed on a voice vote — by calls of “Aye” — without a full formal vote.

 

Afterwards, Hoyle apologized for the chaos.

“I regret how it’s ended up,” Hoyle said. “I wanted all to ensure they could express their views and all sides of the House could vote.”

The Labour Party, tipped to win a national election expected later this year, has been engulfed by an internal battle over its policy towards the Middle East conflict since the devastating October 7 onslaught by Hamas that led to Israel’s offensive against the terror group.

While the outcome of the vote was not binding on the British government or closely watched in Israel or by Hamas, it had the potential to cause problems for Starmer, who is keen to present his party as united, disciplined, and ready for power.

A similar motion tabled by the SNP in November saw Starmer suffer the biggest revolt of his leadership when 56 Labour members of parliament voted to back it.

The Labour leadership was reluctant to back the SNP amendment that calls for an immediate ceasefire because it condemned the “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people.

The Labour leader initially gave full backing to Israel as it embarked on its military retaliation. But Labour members of parliament and party members have put increasing pressure on the leadership to back an immediate ceasefire.

The war erupted after the Palestinian terror group carried out a massacre of southern communities that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The thousands of terrorists who invaded also abducted 253 people of all ages to the Palestinian enclave.

Both Israel and Hamas have deflected rising international pressure to halt a war, now in its fifth month, that has demolished much of the Gaza Strip and caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

Israel has said the war will only end when over 130 hostages still in Gaza are returned and Hamas is dismantled. It has agreed in principle to a temporary truce as part of a hostage release deal, but Hamas has said it will only free hostages in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal leading to an end to the war, amid other demands Israel has said are non-starters.

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