Labour bind over Gaza ceasefire vote as Government calls opposition ‘naive’

Labour faces another parliamentary challenge on Wednesday as MPs prepare to debate calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The party had hoped to avoid another rebellion over the Israel-Hamas war by tabling an amendment to an SNP motion demanding an immediate ceasefire in the region.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party on Tuesday publicly shifted its stance to back a call for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, giving MPs who were unhappy with the leadership’s previous handling of the issue a wording to rally behind.

If that happens, it would leave Labour MPs with the choice between voting for the Government’s position, which does not go as far as calling for an immediate ceasefire, backing the SNP’s stance, or abstaining altogether.

Labour has not revealed how it would vote if its amendment was not selected, and insists that its proposal is the only one capable of receiving backing from the whole House of Commons.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow development minister, told Sky News on Wednesday morning that failing to back her party’s motion on a ceasefire in Gaza would mean “we will have missed an opportunity to put forward a serious proposal that allies Britain with our international allies and enables us all to speak with one voice at this critical moment”.

She also criticised the SNP for failing to discuss the wording of its motion with Labour beforehand, saying: “If they wanted to put a proposition before the House that all parties could have voted for, they could have discussed it with us, I think they would have chosen very different language.”

The Government accused Labour and the SNP of focusing on internal politics at the expense of international affairs.

Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, said: “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.”

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Sir Keir Starmer has shifted his party’s language on the Israel-Hamas conflict, but could still face a rebellion from MPs if his party’s amendment is not selected (Dan Kitwood/PA)

For the SNP’s part, the party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said Sir Keir Starmer would have to “explain his position”, arguing it would be “untenable” for him “to say that he backs an immediate ceasefire, but not vote for one”.

The rival proposals submitted to MPs are:

– The original SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages held by Hamas and “an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

– Labour’s amendment calling for an immediate ceasefire, emphasising this involves both sides agreeing to lay down their arms and the return of all hostages taken by Hamas, and calling for a diplomatic process for achieving a two-state solution and a lasting peace.

– The Government amendment saying ministers want an “immediate humanitarian pause” in the fighting before supporting “moves towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire” that involves Hamas freeing all hostages and relinquishing control of Gaza, and international efforts to create a two-state solution.

– A Liberal Democrat amendment calling for an “immediate bilateral ceasefire”, the release of hostages and a two-state solution with Hamas not in power.

Differences over whether to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza have previously caused problems for the Labour Party, and Wednesday’s vote could reopen those divisions once again.

Wednesday’s debate will take place as thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators are expected to take part in a rally in Parliament Square, and follows an intervention by the Prince of Wales, who called for fighting to end “as soon as possible” and increased humanitarian support for Gaza.

It also comes as the Commons International Development Committee returns from a visit to Al-Arish, in Egypt, the main logistics hub for aid heading to Gaza and the location of a hospital providing care for injured Palestinians.

Committee chair and Labour MP Sarah Champion said: “Nothing that has been reported braces you for the true scale of the horror in Gaza. We’re simply not getting accurate information about the levels of destruction and brutality.

“Listening to seasoned humanitarians tell us that what they’ve witnessed in Gaza makes it the worse (sic) disaster they’ve ever seen really brought home the savagery befalling civilians. Aid workers repeatedly questioned why international law wasn’t being followed or upheld in relation to civilians, humanitarians and medics.”

She added that there was a feeling of “dread and inevitability” about Israel carrying out a ground assault on Rafah, saying: “Politicians around the world need to demand an immediate end to the violence, full access for aid and a long term strategy to rebuild Gaza; both its infrastructure and its society.”

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