Starmer: 'I'm more concerned by Gaza crisis than Labour Party unity'

Sir Keir Starmer has been hit with a frontbench rebellion over his refusal to back a ceasefire in Gaza, ITV News Scotland Reporter Louise Scott reports

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he is more concerned by the crisis in Gaza than unity in his party, after 10 MPs were either sacked or resigned from his frontbench over their opposition to his stance on a ceasefire.

Eight of his shadow ministers and two parliamentary private secretaries left his top team after defying the party whip by voting for a ceasefire in Gaza, rather than backing his calls for so-called "humanitarian pauses".

Among the most high profile resignations was domestic violence and safeguarding secretary Jess Phillips, who said she was leaving the the Shadow Cabinet with a "heavy heart".

Sir Keir, speaking exclusively to ITV News, said he "of course" wants his party to be united, "but you wouldn't expect me to stand here today and say my concern is the Labour Party management, rather than the hostages and the innocent civilians and children that are dying in Gaza".

"My focus and attention is there and that's where it is and where it will always be."

His comments come after MPs voted 290 to 183, a majority of 107, to reject Labour's King's Speech amendment calling for longer "humanitarian pauses" - as opposed to a longer lasting ceasefire in Gaza.

The SNP's King's Speech amendment calling for "all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire" in the enclave was also rejected 293 to 125.

In total, the division list showed 56 Labour MPs backed the SNP's call for an immediate ceasefire.

Sir Keir said he regretted that party colleagues had not backed his position.

After Wednesday's vote on Labour's King's Speech amendment, the following MPs have either resigned or been asked to step down from the party:

  • Jess Phillips, shadow minister for domestic violence and MP for Birmingham Yardley

  • Yasmin Qureshi, shadow women and equalities minister and MP for Bolton South East

  • Afzal Khan, shadow business minister and MP for Manchester Gorton

  • Paula Barker, shadow minister for devolution and MP for Liverpool Wavertree

  • Rachel Hopkins, shadow minister for defence and MP for Luton South

  • Sarah Owen, shadow minister for housing and MP for Luton North

  • Naz Shah, shadow minister for crime reduction and MP for Bradford West

  • Andy Slaughter, shadow solicitor general and MP for Hammersmith

  • Dan Carden, parliamentary private secretary and MP for Liverpool Walton

  • Mary Foy, parliamentary private secretary and MP for City of Durham

"Alongside leaders around the world, I have called throughout for adherence to international law, for humanitarian pauses to allow access for aid, food, water, utilities and medicine, and have expressed our concerns at the scale of civilian casualties," he said.

"Much more needs to be done in this regard to ease the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Gaza.

"And 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."

Sir Keir had met with some of his frontbenchers on Wednesday afternoon in a bid to persuade them to back the Labour's amendment instead.

Sir Keir Starmer lost 10 frontbenchers after they voted for a ceasefire in Gaza, rather than backing humanitarian pauses. ITV News Political Correspondent Harry Horton reports

A Labour spokesman said: "This is a whipped vote and every MP knows what the consequence of that means."

The spokesman acknowledged that shadow ministers had been given some freedom to speak in favour of a ceasefire, but said a Commons vote was a different matter.

"There is an understanding that there is a difference when it comes to the space that we have allowed, given that we fully understand that this is a very challenging subject… in the debate that there has been up to this point, but at the point at which there is a vote in Parliament that clearly is something that has a significance to it that everybody understands," they added.

The Middle East conflict has caused splits in the Labour Party, with the leadership backing the Conservative government’s position of pushing for "humanitarian pauses" in the Israel-Hamas fighting.

However, several shadow ministers have openly called for a ceasefire instead.

On Wednesday, protesters were removed from the Commons, after holding up "ceasefire now" signs during the King’s Speech debate involving shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper.

A group of five or six people stood up and held aloft the messages as Ms Cooper turned to the Israel-Hamas conflict in her speech. Environmental group Extinction Rebellion have since claimed responsibility for the protest.

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