With a massive pro-Palestine demonstration taking place outside parliament, UK’s House of Commons voted on Wednesday on a divisive amendment calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, with nearly 70 Labour MPs going against the party leadership.
However, both motions on Gaza were defeated, as majority MPs voted against them.
The Labour motion on Gaza called for a humanitarian pause whereas the Scottish National Party (SNP) motion sought release of Israeli prisoners, end of the Gaza siege and an immediate ceasefire.
During the debate, the drama unfolded live as Labour MPs voting for the SNP’s ceasefire motion simultaneously tweeted resignations from their frontbench posts. Labour MP and shadow minister for women and equities Yasmin Qureshi was the first to resign from her post as she supported a ceasefire vote. MP Afzal Khan from Manchester Gorton followed, resigning from his post as shadow minister for exports.
Tory MPs, however, reiterated their support for humanitarian pauses, and took exception to the term ceasefire. One MP said the word ceasefire implies “only one side, that is Israel, should stop violence, which is not the solution”.
Ahead of the vote, there was high political drama within the Labour party as SNP-led ceasefire vote split opinion. Thousands of constituents rang Labour MPs, including frontbench shadow ministers, and persuaded them to vote against the party’s position and for a ceasefire in Gaza. Nearly 70 Labour MPs defied their leader to call for a ceasefire now, and nearly 50 councillors resigned from the party over the leadership’s position on the war.
Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, tweeted, “In my nearly 4 years as an MP, I’ve been contacted by more constituents about Gaza and the call for a ceasefire than any other policy issue.”
As Keir Starmer in recent weeks stated a ceasefire would only embolden Hamas, his comments left the Labour party divided. Labour’s official position on the conflict is to call for a “humanitarian pause” rather than a full ceasefire, which is the same position as the UK government and the US.
There were multiple reports of Labour MPs being pressured by the party leadership to abstain from voting for a ceasefire as they could be sacked. But on Wednesday, several prominent Labour MPs even before the amendment was open to voting tweeted they would vote for a ceasefire.
Labour shadow minister from Bradford West Naz Shah said she would back an amendment, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Ms Shah said, “It would be a grave injustice if the world turned a blind eye while innocent Palestinians are being murdered by the hour.”
During the Prime Minister’s Questions, SNP MP Stephen Mark Flynn in the Commons said, “How much worse does it need to get? 4,609 children are dead, babies in the neonatal ICU are dying because they don’t have access to oxygen. For members across this house, this [vote] is a question of values and conscience.”
The PM responded, “It’s right that Israel is able to defend itself as it suffered an appalling attack by Hamas which is a terror organisation. We have consistently called for humanitarian pauses so aid can get in and hospital staff and foreign nationals can get out.”
Labour MP from Bradford East Imran Hussain quit his frontbench role last week to “strongly advocate for a ceasefire” and stated he would vote for the SNP’s ceasefire amendment. He said: “A foreign policy that is driven by values would not still be advocating the four hour pauses that do nothing to alleviate the suffering of innocent men, women and children.”