Jess Phillips has become the most high-profile Labour MP to quit the frontbench over Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on Gaza, after voting in the Commons for an SNP amendment called for a ceasefire.
A total of eight Labour shadow ministers, and 56 of their MPs in total, defied the Labour leadership backing the SNP’s King’s Speech amendment calling for “all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, which was defeated 293 to 125 in a Commons vote.
Labour MPs had been ordered to abstain on the SNP move and were told instead to back Starmer’s position calling for longer “humanitarian pauses” rather than a ceasefire.
But this Labour amendment was defeated, as Tory whips instructed their MPs to vote against Starmer’s move, even though it closely resembled the stance taken by the government over Israel’s war against Hamas.
In a statement after a total of 56 of his MPs backed the SNP amendment, Starmer said:”“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.”
The Jewish Labour Movement later issued a statement saying:”Keir Starmer showed leadership and stood by a principled position that is rooted in reality tonight.
“We urgently need to see an end to suffering in Gaza, but we can’t impose a ceasefire unilaterally.
“We can’t risk abandoning hostages and leaving Hamas’ terrorist rule intact.”
Luke Akehurst, a member of Labour’s national executive committee, added:”Not impressed by resigners from frontbench. Labour MPs should show moral leadership to their constituents and stand with Israel as it fights Hamas.”
A spokesperson for Starmer had earlier said his MPs “know the consequences” of failing to support the Labour amendment.
Sources later suggested the rebels had basically sacked themselves after failing to vote for the Labour amendment.
The eight shadow ministers to leave the frontbench were Paula Barker, Rachel Hopkins, Afzal Khan, Sarah Owen, Jess Phillips, Yasmin Qureshi, Naz Shah and Andy Slaughter.
Parliamentary private secretaries Dan Carden and Mary Foy also left the frontbench.
Ten of the party’s frontbenchers have left the party over the vote, including eight shadow minsters. Imran Hussain had resigned from his role over the position on Gaza last week.
But none of Starmer’s shadow cabinet rebelled.
The leader later said:”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.
“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.”
One party insider suggested the rebellion would “not shift” the leader’s stance on Israel, which has closely mirrored both the government’s and US president Joe Bidden’s response to the October 7th Hamas terrorist atrocities in Israel.
Another source said they feared a larger rebellion at one stage, but senior party figures, including Starmer, Lisa Nandy and the whips, managed to convince some MPs to vote for the Labour amendment.
Rosena Allin-Khan, Dawn Butler, Richard Burgon, Ian Byrne, Barry Gardiner, Clive Lewis and Ian Lavery were among those to vote for the SNP amendment.
As did John McDonnell, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Zarah Sultana.
The Conservative MP Paul Bristow was among those in his party to vote for a ceasefire.
Phillips said it was with a “heavy heart” that she quit the Labour frontbench because of the party’s stance on Gaza.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said she had planned to back calls for a ceasefire in the Commons.
— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) November 15, 2023
In a resignation letter, the Birmingham Yardley Labour MP Phillips wrote: “This week has been one of the toughest weeks in politics since I entered Parliament.
“I have tried to do everything that I could to make it so that this was not the outcome, but it is with a heavy heart that I will be leaving my post in the Shadow Home Office team.”She had previously been outspoken over the fight against antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn.
During a Commons debate veteran Labour former foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett said: “Tragically, to some people, calling for a ceasefire means that Israel should stop fighting but not that anybody else should cease.”
David Lammy said “quiet, hard diplomacy” is needed, adding: “We need to rapidly get to a longer pause. And she knows there is a legitimate debate in this House, but the Labour motion deals with the issues at hand today, not next week or the week afterwards. Let us see where we get to.”
The shadow foreign secretary added:”“It is hard to see a ceasefire come 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 to let those hostages free. And that I think is at the heart of the nature of the discussion tonight.”
Labour MP Margaret Beckett says she cannot support calls for a ceasefire because to some people calling for a ceasefire means Israel should stop fighting but not anyone else. pic.twitter.com/cWQL6GgwEW
— Saul Staniforth (@SaulStaniforth) November 15, 2023
After the vote it appeared as though the Socialist Campaign Group, who were previously supportive of Corbyn, no longer had representation on the Labour frontbench.
Of the party’s Jewish MPs, Margaret Hodge backed the Labour amendment, whilst Alex Sobel and Fabian Hamilton voted in favour of the SNP ceasefire call.
Ahead of Wednesday evening’s vote pro-Palestine campaigners mounted a protest outside parliament.
Chants of “Ceasefire Now” were heard alongside the now infamous “From The River To The Sea” chant.
Banners and placards included one that had a drawing of Hitler on it with the wording “The Irony of Becoming What You Once Hated”.
There was also a visible contingent of anti-Zionist Jewish banner on display. Those at the demo were left disappointed when the SNP ceasefire call failed to pass in the Commons vote.
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