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Labour accuses SNP of 'political ploy' as rebels defy Keir Starmer in Gaza ceasefire vote

Labour leader Keir Starmer and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar

Labour accuses SNP of 'political ploy' as rebels defy Keir Starmer in Gaza ceasefire vote

MPs have voted down calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in a move that has split the Labour Party and seen the SNP accused of political games. 

The SNP used a debate on the King's Speech to force a vote on the violence in Gaza, condemning the "horrific killings by Hamas", calling for the "urgent release" of Israeli hostages and backing the "end of the siege of Gaza" to allow aid in for civilians.

The party further urged the UK Government to "join with the international community in urgently pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire".

Labour – which backs a "humanitarian pause" to fighting, short of a ceasefire – put forward its own amendment and warned its MPs not to vote with the SNP.

It was reported that frontbench rebels would be sacked if they did so, with a spokesperson for leader Keir Starmer saying that "this is a whipped vote and every MP knows what the consequence of that means".

But almost 70 Labour MPs defied the party line to back a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ahead of the debate, including almost 20 frontbenchers.

A peace vigil was held outside Whitehall

Shadow minister for women and equalities, Yasmin Qureshi, and shadow exports minister Afzal Khan announced their resignations minutes before the vote in order to defy the party whip. Shadow devolution minister Paula Barker also quit.

And the matter exposed further rifts in the party, with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and his predecessor Richard Leonard speaking out in favour of a cessation of violence.

London mayor Sadiq Khan and Manchester mayor Andy Burnham have also backed ceasefire calls and scores of councillors and local officials, including some in Edinburgh and Glasgow, previously quit in protest at Starmer's stance.

Jess Phillips and other frontbenchers who voted against the party line resigned their position after the result was revealed.

The Labour leader has said Hamas, which launched a bloody attack on Israel last month, would be "emboldened" by a ceasefire.

Scotland's two Labour MPs, Ian Murray and Michael Shanks, wrote to SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn urging the SNP to drop its call and back Labour's pause plan instead, claiming this "sets out what can realistically be achieved in the short term to halt the humanitarian crisis we are witnessing".

Ahead of the debate, Flynn said that "to any neutral observer, war crimes are being committed by Israel in Gaza" and that the Palestinian territory had gone from being "an 'open air prison' to a graveyard".

Highlighting the deaths of children, the SNP's Alison Thewliss told fellow MPs: "When you're giving birth it doesn't really fit into a neat four-hour humanitarian pause. Women are giving birth, having caesareans without anaesthetic. Babies are being born into chaos and death where they cannot be guaranteed a ventilator will be available to keep them alive."

Despite all the risks to our personal positions, we must do what is right

Asking why the UK is "not standing behind the United Nations", which has called for a ceasefire, Thewliss conceded that the vote "will not end the 70-year-old conflict" but said it would provide "a place to begin".

Opening the debate for Labour, Yvette Cooper said the Commons had been "deeply disturbed" by the violence and condemned the "horror and trauma" it had created.

She said all MPs should "urge the UK Government to do what it can to strain every sinew in the pursuit of peace".

And she told the House: "We have words on a page that we will talk about voting on today, but all of us know it's not the words on the page that's how this will be achieved; it will be achieved through step by step intense diplomacy and pressure that recognises how difficult this is when Hamas are refusing to agree to stop rocket attacks and their pledge, again, to repeat the attacks of the seventh of October.

"And we recognise this too: that hostages are still being held. But we still have to make urgent diplomatic progress. We still have to do what we can right now to save lives and to make progress in getting hostilities suspended, especially so that humanitarian action can be taken. 

"And we recognise too, that the only way forward is a two-state solution with a secure and safe Israel alongside a secure and sovereign Palestine."

Her colleague Imran Hussain, MP for Bradford East, who quit Labour's front bench over the ceasefire issue, said four-hour pauses "do nothing to alleviate the suffering" of Gazans and declared he would defy the party whip.

Fellow Labour MP Naz Shah said she too would back the ceasefire call, saying that "despite all the risks to our personal positions, we must do what is right". Saying she would do the same, the party's Helen Heyes said all MPs "must be able to stand in front of our constituents with integrity, and at peace with our own conscience".

However, Tory Michael Ellis said there was a "rich and sad irony" in the debate because it is "a conflict over which the UK has no control and a ceasefire which neither side in the actual conflict actually want".

Accusing the SNP of playing politics, he went on: "Hamas openly say they will fight on to kill as many Jews as possible – not Israelis, Jews – that they would do the seventh of October all over again if they could.

"Israel will destroy Hamas and will be doing the world and indeed the Palestinian people a great service by doing so.

"A ceasefire would play into the hands of terrorists and terrorism and the Scottish nationalists have engineered an amendment to this debate, amongst others, to incommode and undermine the Labour leadership – but what they actually undermine is community cohesion."

Matt Western, Labour MP for Warwick and Leamington, also described the SNP amendment as "a political ploy". Colleague Paulette Hamilton said she backed a temporary bilateral ceasefire but asked MPs to "think twice about the SNP amendment because it has been put here to cause division".

SNP chief whip Owen Thompson said the SNP's is a "principled position" and stated that suggestions it is a "political game" are "utterly bizarre".

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran – the UK's first MP of Palestinian heritage – told MPs she wanted to "vote for peace" and had now lost her first family member in the conflict. 

Amnesty International, the Pope, Save the Children, Unicef and the World Health Organisation are among the voices to call for a cessation of violence.

Labour shadow foreign secretary David Lammy was asked for the difference between a "cessation of fighting" and a "ceasefire". He said: "It is hard to see a ceasefire coming about if Hamas are not prepared to stop the firing of rockets into Israel and if Hamas are not prepared to lay down their arms and set those hostages free."

A majority of MPs rejected amendments put forward by both parties.

I regret that some colleagues felt unable to support the position tonight

After the vote, the SNP's Stephen Flynn said: "There is growing international momentum for an immediate ceasefire but Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer have opted out of it and have instead chosen to repeat their parties’ past mistakes by ignoring the UN, disregarding international law and sitting on their hands while innocent civilians are being killed.

"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."

Meanwhile, Starmer commented: "In addition to addressing the present, every leader has a duty not to go back to a failed strategy of containment and neglect, but to forge a better and more secure future for both Palestinians and Israelis.

"I regret that some colleagues felt unable to support the position tonight. But 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."

Speaking from Holyrood as the debate took place, Sarwar said Labour's amendment "makes clear their position", calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate and for immediate action over hostages and humanitarian supplies, among other measures. When asked about the position of Scottish MPs, Sarwar said: "The amendment that the Labour Party is putting forward does call for an end to all violence."

He went on: "I'm very clear on our position. We will be expecting a vote on the Middle East conflict in the Scottish Parliament next week and we will be voting in line with the principles and the policy that I've set out. I want to see a ceasefire."

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