Sir Keir Starmer will stage a showdown vote in parliament on Wednesday calling for a humanitarian pause in Gaza in a bid to force Labour rebels who want a ceasefire to back his stance.
The Labour leader’s Commons motion will criticise Israel’s conduct and mourn the “insufficient aid” getting into the strip, but it will not support a ceasefire.
Sir Keir is attempting to head off an embarrassing rebellion by Labour MPs, with the SNP likely to secure its own vote calling for a ceasefire as an amendment to the King’s Speech.
More than 65 Labour MPs – including 18 Labour frontbenchers – have defied Sir Keir’s position. Almost 50 councillors have quit the party and more than 330 local leaders have urged him to change position.
The Labour leadership will put forward its own amendment to the King’s Speech to give his MPs a say and attempt to force unity, a party spokesperson said.
Labour insiders have indicated that if frontbenchers defy the leader’s position and vote with the SNP, they would have to quit or face the sack.
The spokesperson said: “Labour’s amendment reaffirms the position set out in Keir Starmer’s Chatham House speech and reflects our concerns about what we’ve seen on the ground in the last fortnight.”
He said the concerns include “the lack of hostage release, the insufficient amount of aid and utilities getting in and being distributed, the scale of civilian casualties in Gaza and the amount of violence on the West Bank”.
Labour MPs will be expected not to take part in a vote on the SNP’s amendment calling for a ceasefire in Gaza if it is selected on Wednesday, the spokesman confirmed. “We’re not going to be engaging with the party political game-playing by the SNP in parliament,” he said.
Starmer has seen major splits in his party over the Israel-Hamas war
Sir Keir has been warned that the resignation of frontbencher Imran Hussain over the party’s refusal to back a ceasefire “won’t be the last”. Figures close to Sir Keir believe more than 10 Labour frontbenchers could back the SNP motion and quit on Wednesday.
However, left-wing Labour MPs who have pushed the leadership to back a ceasefire say such claims are part of expectation management by Sir Keir’s team, and they don’t expect as many as 10 to resign.
One Labour MP told The Independent that as many as five frontbenchers could defy Sir Keir, but it would depend on the wording of Labour’s own humanitarian pause motion.
“We need a ceasefire, not a pause,” they said, encouraging those who want to see a ceasefire to vote for one when the chance comes on Wednesday.
It comes as shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves urged Israel to show greater “restraint” in Gaza. In the strongest remarks yet by a frontbencher, she criticised Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
“I would urge Israel to show restraint – to show restraint, allow water, medicine, fuel into Gaza and into those hospitals,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Sir Keir and his team have been warned of fresh resignations on Wednesday
She called on Rishi Sunak’s government and international allies “to put more pressure on Netanyahu’s government to show the restraint that we’re not seeing at the moment”.
Ms Reeves also defended Sir Keir’s refusal to back a ceasefire – suggesting that Israel could not negotiate with Hamas. “A ceasefire is not something you can dictate, a ceasefire has to be negotiated,” Ms Reeves told the Today programme. These are not the people who are going to agree to a ceasefire.”
In the Commons, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy called for a “full comprehensive and immediate humanitarian pause” – saying short pauses are not enough to alleviate suffering in Gaza.
Speaking during a ministerial statement on Israel, Mr Lammy said: “Gaza is in a humanitarian catastrophe, more than 1.5 million people have been displaced, there are desperate shortages of basic essentials, does the minister agree that the short pauses in the north are clearly not enough?
“Gazans need aid now, they need medicines now, they need water now, they need food now, they need fuel now, a full comprehensive and immediate humanitarian pause in fighting across the whole of Gaza now to alleviate Palestinian suffering and for Hamas terrorists to release the hostages.”