Keir Starmer addresses the House of Commons.
©UK Parliament / Andy Bailey

Labour leadership to ‘continue engaging’ with frontbenchers questioning party’s Israel-Gaza stance

Keir Starmer will not sack shadow ministers rebelling over the party’s refusal to back a ceasefire in Gaza, senior frontbencher Peter Kyle has said. 

Kyle, who serves as the shadow secretary of state for science innovation and technology, vowed that the Labour leadership will “continue engaging” with those colleagues questioning the party’s stance. 

It comes after Starmer called for a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting to allow for aid to be delivered to civilians in Gaza. The position stops short of some shadow ministers who are urging the Labour leader to back a ceasefire. 

Among the shadow ministers to have broken rank on the conflict are Naz Shah, Paul Barker and Afzal Khan, who have all overtly challenged the party’s position. 

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and mayors Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham have also defied the leadership.

On Saturday, shadow ministers Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen and Jess Phillips, alongside Labour whip Kim Leadbeater all retweeted calls for a ceasefire on X (formerly Twitter).

Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood has also appeared to warn Israel against “collective punishment” in Gaza.

She wrote in a letter to constituents: “My position, as well as that of my party, has been that it is absolutely essential that there is a clear distinction between a terrorist group and the innocent civilians of Gaza, who have suffered for so long and do not deserve collective punishment”.

The letter, which was shared with the Sunday Telegraph, also said she had told party officials at “every level’ that Starmer’s remarks to LBC earlier this month had caused “immense distress”.

In the interview with LBC, Starmer appeared to suggest that Israel had the right to withhold water and food from Palestinians in Gaza.

The presenter asked of Israel’s response to Hamas’ initial attack: “A siege is appropriate? Cutting off power, cutting off water?”. The Labour leader responded: “I think that Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation.”

Keir Starmer’s spokesman has since suggested that the LBC interview confused Labour’s position because “there were overlapping questions and answers based on what had been being said before”.

Speaking to Times Radio on Sunday, Peter Kyle denied that collective responsibility had been suspended on the party’s Israel-Gaza stance. 

Asked if those speaking against Sir Keir should be sacked, Kyle told the BBC: “Well look, what we are going to do, I suspect, is continue engaging with them.”

He added: “I think the fact that we have a vigorous debate within our party … reflects a strength. It is a strength of our leadership, certainly not a weakness of our party.”

Last week, Wes Streeting, the shadow secretary of state for health and social care, said that people wanted his party to be “louder and clearer” about the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.

Asked if voters could be turned away from Labour as a result, Streeting told Sky News: “No, I think people have been upset and hurt and wanted us to be louder and clearer on the humanitarian crisis.”

Streeting also told Sky News that Starmer, despite previous comments in the LBC interview, “doesn’t think it’s ok cut off power and water”.

“It was never Keir’s intention to give the impression that we support those measures,” he said.

“In interviews you have a sustained line of questioning — he was answering a previous question and not that one.” is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.