Starmer hit by wave of resignations as frontbenchers quit over Gaza ceasefire vote

todayNovember 16, 2023 1

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Starmer hit by wave of resignations as frontbenchers quit over Gaza ceasefire vote

A wave of Labour frontbenchers including senior MP Jess Phillips have resigned in order to back an SNP motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, in a blow to Sir Keir Starmer’s authority.

Afzal Khan, Yasmin Qureshi, Paula Barker and Naz Shah are among the eight shadow junior ministers that quit in order to defy party orders to abstain from the vote.

Politics Live: Reaction as Starmer hit by resignations

Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen and Andy Slaughter have also left their frontbench roles after breaking the party whip to back the amendment.

MPs voted 293 to 125, majority 168, to reject the SNP’s King’s Speech amendment calling for “all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.

But in a blow to Sir Keir’s authority:

  • 56 Labour MPs backed the SNP position despite Labour’s stance
  • Eight shadow ministers quit, bringing total resignations since the war started to nine
  • Two parliamentary private secretaries, Dan Carden and Mary Foy, also quit

The MPs who rebelled say Sir Keir’s calls for humanitarian pauses in the Israel-Hamas war don’t go far enough.

Protesters descended onto Parliament Square ahead of the vote, where they waved Palestinian flags and could be heard chanting “ceasefire now”.

In a statement Sir Keir said he regretted that party colleagues had not backed his position.

But he added: “I wanted to be clear about where I stood, and where I will stand. Leadership is about doing the right thing. That is the least the public deserves. And the least that leadership demands.”

Protesters call for a ceasefire

Protesters call for a ceasefire outside parliament

The Labour Party has been divided over its approach to the Middle East conflict.

The Labour leader has backed the government’s position of pushing for humanitarian pauses in the fighting to allow aid to reach Palestinians trapped in the bombarded territory, but stopping short of calling for a total cessation of hostilities – saying that would “embolden” Hamas.

The resignations tonight mean that nine shadow ministers have quit over Labour’s position in total, after Imran Hussain stepped down last week.

Sky News’s political correspondent Tamara Cohen described the resignations as possibly the “biggest challenge to Starmer’s authority” yet.

Some resignations were expected after Labour MPs were ordered to abstain on the SNP motion and told instead to back Sir Keir’s position calling for longer “humanitarian pauses”.

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Labour rebellion tonight is ‘biggest challenge to Starmer’s authority yet’

By tradition, those occupying frontbench positions are bound by a collective responsibility that they support the party’s official line – although so far Sir Keir has allowed some to deviate by expressing support for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Frontbenchers who rebel to back a rival amendment would normally face the sack – or be expected to resign – for breaking the party whip.

Phillips quitting ‘with heavy heart’

Jess Phillips

Labour MP Jess Phillips

Ms Phillips, the most high profile MP to step down, said it was with a “heavy heart” that she quit the frontbench.

In a resignation letter, the Birmingham Yardley MP and former shadow minister for domestic abuse wrote: “This week has been one of the toughest weeks in politics since I entered Parliament.

“I have tried to do everything that I could to make it so that this was not the outcome, but it is with a heavy heart that I will be leaving my post in the shadow Home Office team.

“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.

“I can see no route where the current military action does anything but put at risk the hope of peace and security for anyone in the region now and in the future.”

Meanwhile Ms Shah said her email inbox is full of messages from constituents who agree with her position.

She told the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge: “We have to make our positions clear… our job in Parliament is to use our platforms to convince people, which is what I did in the chamber earlier.

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“I’m not alone in calling for a ceasefire… my inbox has thousands of emails about a ceasefire. This is an issue that the British public feel strongly about.

“At some point there will be a ceasefire. Had we called for a ceasefire yesterday, 144 children might still be alive. A child dies every 10 minutes.”

Some Labour MPs expressed their support for a ceasefire but said they abstained from the SNP motion, calling it “divisive”.

Jess Phillips biggest loss to Starmer

Jon Craig - Chief political correspondent

Jon Craig

Chief political correspondent


Given the mutinous mood among Tory MPs this week, Sir Keir Starmer will probably be relieved that the rebellion by Labour frontbenchers on an Israel-Hamas ceasefire was confined to around a dozen MPs.

Yes, a total of 56 Labour MPs were among the 125 who voted for the SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire. And the number would have been 61 if renegades like Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott were still Labour MPs.

The 56 included many of the so-called “usual suspects” on the Labour left: Corbyn cheerleaders like Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery, Rebecca Long-Bailey, John McDonnell, Angela Rayner’s former “soulmate” Sam Tarry and Jon Trickett.

Crucially for Sir Keir, there were no shadow cabinet rebels and the nine shadow ministers and parliamentary private secretaries were nearly all minor figures holding low-key posts. Most were not even a household name in their own home.

But the big exception was Jess Phillips, the high-profile and extrovert shadow Home Office minister, a combative and persuasive media performer and a hard-hitting scourge of the Tory government in the Commons.

She’s by far the biggest loss to Sir Keir’s frontbench team after this rebellion and the Labour leader will need to be forgiving after a decent interval and is likely to be looking for a reason to restore her to the front line before the general election.

Read the full analysis here

However the SNP said the motion would allow MPs to vote with their conscience on the war, which broke out following the surprise Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, that saw around 1,200 people killed, according to Israel’s foreign ministry.

Since then over 11,000 people have been killed in retaliatory attacks on Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said: “It’s shameful that a majority of Tory and Labour MPs blocked calls for a ceasefire – and have condoned the continued bombardment of Gaza, which has killed thousands of children and civilians, in breach of international law.

“It is clear that support for a ceasefire would have been even stronger tonight if Keir Starmer had not threatened Labour MPs with punishments if they voted for peace.”

Written by: Newsroom

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