Lisa Nandy has criticised colleagues who backed an SNP amendment in parliament calling for a Gaza ceasefire “at a time you’ve got 200 hostages potentially sitting in tunnels” and with “Hamas rockets flying into Israel.”
Speaking at a Westminster journalists lunch, Labour’s shadow international development minister argued that for many people in Israel, hearing the term ceasefire meant they should “lay down their arms and just allow that situation.”
Criticising the stance of those who rebelled against the position of Keir Starmer in Wednesday’s vote, Nandy continued:”I don’t see how that is a correct position to hold.”
Insisting that many of those who had resigned from Labour’s frontbench were still “friends”, Nandy also made the argument that with a realistic prospect of her party forming the next government and being able to influence international affairs more than in opposition, “I can’t apologise for saying we need to speak with one voice on these issues.”
Responding to those, who include former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who argued Labour MP’s should have been given a free vote on last night’s amendments, Nandy said:”That might stand in opposition … it doesn’t stand in government.”
Answering questions from journalists having given a speech in which she praised former Labour leader Gordon Brown for the consistent advice he had been given her since she took up her new role, Nandy was asked for her view of those 56 MPs, including 10 frontbenchers who had defied a three-line whip to vote for the SNP amendment in the Commons on Wednesday.
She said:”There are heartfelt views in Labour, as there are in every party in the country.
“In the end, as a member of parliament you have to be able to live with yourself and the decisions you made with your own conscience.”
Insisting those senior MPs who had defied Keir Starmer in the biggest rebellion under his leadership were a “real loss to the frontbench” Nandy added:”What I can’t apologise for is firstly, the decision that we reached.
“That calling for a ceasefire at a time you’ve got 200 hostages potentially sitting in tunnels in Gaza, and Hamas rockets flying into Israel…
“You’ve got leaders of Hamas still at large, still talking about amassing weapons and armoury to be able to repeat the horrific events of the 7th of October when many people in Israel, and I know our colleagues don’t mean this, including the Israeli government, when they hear the term ceasefire, they see it as simply an instruction that they should lay down their arms and just allow that situation .
“I don’t see first of all how that is a correct position to hold.”
She continued:”I don’t believe that is the way you create a space for both Palestinian people and the Israeli people to see past the pain that they are in right now and create the space for dialogue.”
The Wigan MP, who has come to play an increasingly influential role again in Starmer’s party, weeks after she was suprisingly moved from the shadow communities secretary role, also referenced the decade she had spent as chair of the Labour Friends of Palestine group, in which she had experienced previous conflicts in the Middle East.
She said that it was typically when a series of “humanitarian pauses” had been created that eventually an end to the violence between Israel and her enemies would come about.
Nandy said that with the current crisis in Gaza there needed to be similar pauses in the deadly violence to create the space to allow the “protection of civilians, hostages out, aid in, and the starting of a credible diplomatic process towards a two state solution for the first time in a decade and a half.”
But in further criticism of colleagues she added:”I cant apologise that in a years time there’s a realistic prospect that Keir and David and I will be in the region not just as the official opposition but as the government” where they would have to be able to influence a process towards peace that has “been badly absent.”
She added:”Our international partners will need to know that we speak with the authority of the entire government.”
Nandy then referenced previous “turbulent times” when Labour had been in opposition and allowed MPs to have free votes and make their own decisions on foreign policy.
“That might stand in opposition, it doesn’t stand in government,” she reasoned. “Everybody in the government understands that ,they accept it.
“I can’t apologise for saying we need to speak as one voice on these issues.”
Asked if Labour would ever support a ceasefire, Nandy said: “I’m really sympathetic to why many people are calling for a ceasefire
“There are two issues with a ceasefire. The first is that currently there’s no prospect whatsoever of a breakthrough with Hamas.
“There may be a breakthrough on hostages, but all there’s been in the last few weeks is a hardening of rhetoric from Hamas. The message that sends to Israel is very much the wrong one and is counter-productive.
“The second is at the current time, humanitarian pauses are the only viable prospect and because the situation is so extreme, it’s not hard to comprehend why at the moment dialogue seems impossible and a ceasefire seems like a very, very distant prospect.
“We’ve got to focus our minds on what is achievable in order to reach the goal that we all want to reach, which is a permanent end to the violence and a credible peace process.”
Nandy was also asked about earlier comments in which she had appeared to be critical of the UK government’s sale of “bombs” to Israel.
Nandy said she did wish to apologise for the comments “but I want to give some context to it.”
In remarks that will infuriate hardline pro-Palestine activists she added:”I have never been opposed to the UK selling arms to Israel, to support the defence system. Israel has a right to defend itself. It’s a democratic country, and we ought to support that.”
But she said that there had been “a number of issues over the years around the targeting of children, particularly where arms have been used.”
She said that she had held discussions with government ministers, including Alistair Burt, who she praised. “I have been very tough with the government that we ought to have a system that prevents that from happening. People ought to be held to account for that.”
Nandy argued the a “lack of accountability particularly around the actions of Hamas, has been one of the reasons why “an entire generation of Palestinians when they hear the words two state solution react with all this anger.”
She said a “rules based order must apply” and that “international law matters”. Nandy said both herself and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy “have very much welcomed the jurisdiction of the ICC over what is happening in Gaza.”
“I think this matters,” she added. “I don’t think it matters to just the Palestinian people, it matters to Israelis as well.”
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