Pressure on Starmer as Labour frontbencher Imran Hussain resigns over Gaza stance

Keir Starmer suffers first frontbench resignation over Gaza stance, James Gooderson reports

A Labour frontbencher has resigned over Sir Keir Starmer’s position on the crisis in the Middle East, adding to pressure on the Labour leader over his stance on the conflict.

Imran Hussain, MP for Bradford East, said he was quitting his role as shadow minister for the new deal for working people to be able to “strongly advocate” for a ceasefire.

In a letter to Sir Keir, he said he was “deeply troubled” by the Labour leader’s interview on LBC in which he appeared to suggest that the Israeli government had a right to withhold water and power from citizens in Gaza.

“It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to tender my resignation as Shadow Minister for the New Deal for Working People after eight years on the Labour Party frontbench,” Mr Hussain said.

He said he had been “proud” to work alongside Sir Keir and his deputy Angela Rayner in developing a plan for employment rights, but could not “in all good conscience” push for a cessation of hostilities while remaining part of the frontbench.

Mr Hussain said: “It has become clear that my view on the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza differs substantially from the position you have adopted.”

A Labour party spokesperson said: “Labour fully understands calls for a ceasefire. Everybody wants to see an end to the shocking images we are seeing in Gaza. We need to see all hostages released and aid getting to those most in need.

“But a ceasefire now will only freeze this conflict and would leave hostages in Gaza and Hamas with the infrastructure and capability to carry out the sort of attack we saw on October the 7th.

“International law must be followed at all times and innocent civilians must be protected. Labour is calling for humanitarian pauses in the fighting. This is the best and most realistic way to address the humanitarian emergency in Gaza and is a position shared by our major allies.”

The Labour leader has faced a deepening battle to maintain discipline in his top team on the Gaza conflict.

At least 16 shadow ministers have either called for a ceasefire or shared others’ calls on social media, including Yasmin Qureshi and Jess Phillips.

Sir Keir has insisted collective responsibility remains important, but declined to say whether frontbenchers would face getting sacked for breaking ranks to urge an end to fighting.

On Tuesday morning, Pat McFadden insisted that Sir Keir was “not going to change” his stance after around 30 Labour councillors resigned over his record on the crisis.

“The point I’m making this morning is yes, we do want to make it stop, but our ambitions should be more than just a ceasefire – it should be a more secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

Burnley’s council leader Afrasiab Anwar and 10 other councillors quit the party on Sunday, describing their memberships as “untenable” given the leader’s refusal to go beyond his call for “humanitarian pauses” amid the escalating conflict.

Sir Keir Starmer has been struggling to maintain frontbench discipline Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Speaking to the PA news agency on Sunday about his decision to quit the party, Mr Anwar said: “We just can’t stand by watching and being part of a party that is not speaking out, or at the very least calling for a ceasefire.

“Instead of talking of peace all of our world leaders, including the leader of the Labour Party, are talking about humanitarian pauses. It is just nonsensical.”

The councillors said they had engaged with a host of senior Labour figures – including shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and deputy leader Angela Rayner – to raise their concerns.

Mr Hussain said he unequivocally condemned Hamas’ October 7 attack but said this could not “become a right to violate international law on protecting civilians or to commit war crimes”.

“As I write, more than 1,400 Israeli and over 10,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed in the last month,” he wrote.

“This shocking number of fatalities is set to grow as indiscriminate attacks and the siege of Gaza continues.”

Mr Hussain had served on Labour’s frontbench for almost eight years, serving under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as shadow international development minister in 2016.