Keir Starmer at Labour Party conference.

Keir Starmer backs ‘immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ in Gaza ahead of crunch vote

Labour could face another backbench rebellion over its Gaza stance during a crunch House of Commons vote today. That is despite calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in the conflict, in what amounts to a significant shift in the party’s position.

Labour has confirmed it will be pushing for an end to the fighting which, it says, “must stop now”.

Up to this point, Labour had been calling for a pause in the fighting which would in time lead to a “sustainable” end to the war.

The new stance echoes a joint statement made by Canada, Australia and New Zealand last week, which called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” and for Israel not to attack Rafah.

It comes as the vote today on a Scottish National Party opposition day motion threatens to inflame tensions within Labour. The politics reflects a previous showdown for Keir Starmer‘s party on its Gaza stance, also prompted by an SNP motion, last November during a debate on the king’s speech.

In November, the party called for an “enduring cessation of fighting” instead, telling its MPs to abstain on the SNP motion calling explicitly for a ceasefire.

It prompted 56 Labour MPs to vote against the party whip and for the SNP amendment. In total, 10 frontbenchers resigned in order to do so — including former shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding Jess Phillips. 

Today, the key difference between the SNP and Labour motions is the former’s emphasis on the term “collective punishment”.

The 237-word Labour amendment also calls for Israel not to invade the city of Rafah, for aid to be allowed to flow to Gaza, and for international countries to work towards a two-state solution. 

It also insists that Israel cannot be expected to abide by a ceasefire if Hamas continues to threaten further violence.

Speaking this morning, shadow international development secretary Lisa Nandy insisted that any proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza must be “two-sided”.

She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme: “On the question of immediate ceasefire, there’s no difference. We have used the language of our international ‘Five Eyes’ partners Australia, Canada and New Zealand who over the last few days have called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

“We think that adds weight to those calls, that the world is speaking with one voice as the ground invasion of Rafah is imminent and it must be averted.

“But there are significant differences between our proposition and the SNP’s. We are clear that any ceasefire by definition must be two-sided, that Israel can’t be expected to lay down its weapons if Hamas doesn’t observe the terms of that ceasefire.

“The SNP motion is vague, whether deliberately or otherwise, on that point and we think it’s extremely important that we send that message.”

The government has also published its own amendment, which calls for a ceasefire but only once a long list of preconditions has been met.

According to House of Commons rules, the Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will choose on Wednesday morning which amendments to bring to a vote. It means Labour MPs could be given a choice between voting for the government’s position, which does not go as far as calling for an immediate ceasefire, and the SNP’s stance.

Precedent suggests the government’s decision to table its own counter-amendment to the SNP’s motion increases the likelihood that the Speaker will not choose Labour’s.

Health secretary Victoria Atkins has described Labour and the SNP’s motions on Gaza as “politically naive parliamentary procedures”.

Atkins told Times Radio: “It’s a shame that such an enormous international event is being now rather overtaken by some parliamentary handling problems for the Leader of the Opposition.

“We the Government have put an amendment down because we are clear we have this consistent policy in Gaza and towards Israel.

“We want this to end but it has to do so, as I say, with those conditions related to hostages and Hamas in power.

“We are not interested in frankly pretty politically naive parliamentary procedures that Labour and others seem to be indulging in.” is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.