Keir Starmer has warned that a ceasefire in Gaza would risk further Hamas violence, following days of internal discontent over the leadership’s stance on the conflict.
In a speech this morning, Starmer restated his position as calling for a “humanitarian pause” in the conflict to allow for aid to be delivered to civilians in Gaza.
He said the war is “an issue that so many people recoil from out of despair”, adding: “Anyone who has followed this closely [will have] seen images that can never be unseen… the innocent dead, Israeli, Palestinian, Muslin, Jew”.
Outlining the “unimaginable scale” of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, he insisted his approach has been “driven by the need to respond to both these tragedies”, standing by the “right of self defence” for Israel and the “basic human rights of innocent Palestinians”.
He said that while he understands the calls for a ceasefire he does not believe it is the “correct position” as it would leave Hamas with the “infrastructure and capability” to carry out another attack.
He added that Israel must “submit to the rules of international law”, as the right to self-defence is “not a blank cheque”.
He concluded his speech by calling for a “new resolve to find a way to peace”, engaging with people across the Middle East, including ensuring a state for Palestinians, as well as protection for Israel.
The intervention comes after days of criticism from frontbenchers and senior Labour figures about the party’s Israel-Gaza stance.
Among the shadow ministers to have broken rank over the conflict are Naz Shah, Paul Barker and Afzal Khan, who have all overtly challenged the party’s position.
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.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and mayors Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham have also defied the leadership.
On Sunday Peter 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.
The speech comes after Starmer suspended the whip last night from former shadow cabinet minister Andy McDonald in a row over his use of the phrase “river to the sea”.
McDonald responded in a statement on X, saying: “Throughout the past two days, there have been a number of misrepresentations of my words in the media. These have furthered baseless and extremely harmful accusations against me, which I feel obliged to respond to now, in order to avoid any further errors in the press”.
He added: “In my speech on Saturday, I said the following: ‘Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty’.
“These words should not be construed in any other way than they were intended, namely as a heartfelt plea for an end to the killings in Israel, Gaza, and the occupied West Bank, and for all peoples in the region to live in freedom without the threat of violence”.
Kate Dove, Momentum Co-Chair, responded: “This is an appalling and opportunistic attempt from the Starmer Leadership to silence those speaking out in solidarity with Palestine. It is an insult to the millions of voters who share Andy’s hopes for a peaceful and just settlement in Israel and Palestine”.
Rishi Sunak himself fired government aide Paul Bristow over comments he made calling for a ceasefire in the conflict.
The Conservative MP Paul Bristow, who served as science, innovation and technology secretary Michelle Donelan’s parliamentary private secretary, broke ranks with the PM to call for a ceasefire.
He warned against “collective punishment” of the people of Gaza “for the crimes of Hamas.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said Monday afternoon: “Paul Bristow has been asked to leave his post in government following comments that were not consistent with the principles of collective responsibility”.
Bristow is the first frontbencher in either the government or the Labour Party to be fired for diverging from the respective leadership’s line on the conflict.
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