Eight members of the Labour frontbench, including Jess Phillips, have stepped down following a significant revolt against Keir Starmer’s decision to support a ceasefire in Gaza.
In total, 56 members of the Labour party supported a proposed change to the king’s speech presented by the Scottish National Party. This dealt a significant blow to the efforts of the Labour leader to maintain cohesion amidst the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Prior to the vote, representatives from the Labour party had stated that any member in a high-ranking position who supported the amendment requesting a halt to hostilities would be dismissed from their position.
On Wednesday evening, Phillips, Afzal Khan, Yasmin Qureshi, and Paula Barker resigned from their positions on the frontbench after casting their votes in favor of the amendment and going against party discipline.
The Labour leader fired Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen, Naz Shah, and Andy Slaughter following the vote. Mary Foy, Angela Rayner’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS), and Dan Carden, another PPS, have also departed from their positions on the frontbench.
After the polls closed, Starmer expressed disappointment that his fellow party members did not support his stance.
“As a leader, I have consistently advocated for following international law and implementing humanitarian pauses to allow for the delivery of aid, food, water, utilities, and medicine. I have also voiced concerns about the high number of civilian casualties.”
He stated, “Being a leader means making ethical decisions, which is the minimum expectation of the public and a requirement of leadership.”
The leader of the Labour party had aimed to prevent a revolt by proposing a different amendment that would condemn Israel’s military actions without explicitly calling for a ceasefire. He also advised his members to refrain from voting on the SNP’s motion. However, several members chose to vote for both amendments due to frustration with Starmer’s handling of the matter.
Members of Parliament voted 293 to 125, with a majority of 168, to dismiss the SNP’s proposed change. Qureshi, Khan, and Barker resigned before the vote took place.
Phillips, the most prominent member of the frontbench, announced her resignation with a feeling of sadness.
In her letter of resignation, the MP for Birmingham Yardley stated that this week has been one of the most challenging in terms of politics since she first joined parliament.
I have made every effort possible to prevent this result, but with great sadness, I have decided to step down from my position in the Home Office team.
“I must cast my vote in alignment with the views of my constituents, my own conscience, and my emotions that have been deeply affected by the ongoing crisis in Israel and Palestine for the past four weeks.”
I am unable to find a path where the present military operation does anything except jeopardize the prospect of peace and safety for individuals in the region presently and in the future.
Shah and Khan, representing the constituencies of Bradford West and Manchester Gorton respectively, informed their fellow Members of Parliament during the House of Commons session that they would be voting in favor of an immediate ceasefire. Despite initially planning to support the amendment, Helen Hayes of Dulwich and West Norwood ultimately chose to abstain from voting.
Following the vote, Shah stated, “It is crucial that we clearly communicate our stance. As members of parliament, it is our responsibility to utilize our platforms to persuade others, as I did in the chamber earlier.”
“I am not the only one advocating for a ceasefire…my inbox is flooded with thousands of emails regarding the matter,” she stated in an interview with Sky News. “The British public has a strong sentiment towards this issue.”
There will eventually be a pause in fighting. If we had asked for a pause in fighting yesterday, 144 children may have been saved. On average, a child dies every 10 minutes.
Previously, she stated in Parliament: “Our principles motivate us to strive for improvement and therefore, regardless of the potential consequences for our own positions, we must do what is morally correct.”
Although it is customary to align with our closest ally, the US, in terms of foreign policy, it is a moral obligation to distance ourselves from them in pursuit of peace.
Ultimately, there will be a pause in this ongoing conflict as history has shown that all wars come to an end with a stoppage of aggression.
The issue is not about whether there will be a cessation of fighting, but rather when it will happen. For the citizens of Palestine, each passing moment means another child without parents, another mother in mourning, and another family torn apart.
According to The Guardian, Khan informed Starmer of his decision to vote for a ceasefire shortly before speaking in the House of Commons. It is believed that Khan was asked if there were any actions the leadership could take to sway his decision.
During his speech in the Commons, Khan stated, “Had a ceasefire been implemented yesterday, 144 children in Gaza would still be alive today. Israel has blatantly violated international humanitarian laws and crossed every possible red line.”
Starmer has been met with increasing criticism for his stance on the conflict following an interview he gave last month where he seemed to imply that Israel had the authority to deprive Gaza civilians of essential resources such as water and power.
In a recent speech at the Chatham House think tank, he made an effort to address the divisions and encouraged Israel to follow international law. However, he did not directly call for a ceasefire.
On Wednesday, Starmer devoted a lot of time to meeting with his shadow ministers in an effort to decrease the anticipated rebellion.