Starmer says ‘fighting must stop now’ in Gaza conflict

Sir Keir Starmer has called for a “ceasefire that lasts” in Gaza, as he used a speech in Scotland to warn that the fighting in the Middle East must “stop now”.

In Glasgow for Scottish Labour’s conference, the party leader has come under fresh pressure over his stance on the crisis after members north of the border backed immediate calls for a ceasefire.

It comes just days before an SNP-led vote on an immediate cessation of fighting this week, which Labour has so far not ruled out backing amid fears the Commons motion could reopen deep divides among MPs.

The Labour leader, fresh from an appearance at a gathering of top politicians in Germany, said every conversation there had focused on the crisis in the Middle East.

“I have just returned from the Munich Security Conference where every conversation I had came back to the situation in Israel and Gaza and the question of what we can do practically to deliver what we all want to see – a return of all the hostages taken on October 7th, an end to the killing of innocent Palestinians, a huge scaling up of humanitarian relief and an end to the fighting.

“Not just for now, not just for a pause, but permanently. A ceasefire that lasts. That is what must happen now. The fighting must stop now.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, left, at the Scottish Labour conference
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, left, at the Scottish Labour conference (Jane Barlow/PA)

The SNP’s Westminster chief Stephen Flynn rejected a claim by Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar that Labour is in touch with his party’s whips about the wording of their Commons motion.

But he did offer to meet Sir Keir on Monday to discuss the vote, which is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

In a letter to the Labour leader, Mr Flynn said: “In the absence of contact from any of your Labour Party colleagues, I am now writing to make clear that I am of course willing to have such a discussion.

“Given the importance of this issue – literally a discussion on life and death – the very least the public would expect is that the leaders of the SNP and the Labour Party at Westminster can sit down and have a discussion on this ceasefire motion.”

But he said he wanted to be “crystal clear” that “any motion must maintain the clarity of pressing for an immediate ceasefire”.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy earlier declined to say how Labour MPs might vote, as he sought to downplay suggestions of a rift with the Scottish leadership.

SNP annual conference
SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has put pressure on the Labour leadership over the conflict in Gaza (Jane Barlow/PA)

“But let us be clear, yes, we will have a vote in Parliament this week but it’s not that vote that will bring about a ceasefire, it’s the diplomatic action.”

He added: “You can have a ceasefire that lasts for a few days. We want the ceasefire to last and to be permanent and to move towards the diplomatic solution. It will only be a political solution that brings an end to this.”

A similar vote tabled by the SNP in November saw eight shadow ministers break ranks to back an immediate ceasefire, with some 56 Labour members defying a three-line whip and backing an amendment to the King’s Speech.

Mr Sarwar himself is under pressure to whip his two Scottish Labour MPs – Ian Murray and Michael Shanks – to vote for an immediate ceasefire when the SNP motion is tabled.

In a previous Westminster vote in November, Sir Keir favoured “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid to enter Gaza.

In his speech in Glasgow, he added his voice to those urging Mr Netanyahu against extending the Israeli offensive into Rafah.

Scottish Labour conference 2024
Labour has sought to play down the idea of divides with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar over the conflict (Jane Barlow/PA)

“This cannot become a new theatre of war. That offensive cannot happen. Even in these most terrible of circumstances, a two-state solution must be back on the table,” he said.

The SNP motion comes in the wake of the row over the Rochdale by-election, which saw Labour take the highly unusual step of withdrawing support for candidate Azhar Ali after he suggested Israel took Hamas’ October attack as a pretext to invade Gaza.

A second parliamentary candidate, Graham Jones, was also suspended after audio appeared to show the former Labour MP use the words “f****** Israel” at the same meeting attended by Mr Ali.

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