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What Labour, the Tories and the SNP say about a Gaza ceasefire

Labour is hoping to avoid a rebellion with an amendment to the SNP’s motion on Gaza.

London, UK. 17th February, 2024. Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters take part in a Global Day of Action to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. The protesters marched to the Israeli embassy for the first time since 7th October 2023. Credit: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News
Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters took part in a Global Day of Action last Saturday to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. (PA)

A vote is being held on Wednesday that calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, putting MPs from all sides at odds with one another.

The SNP, which has consistently called for a ceasefire to the Hamas-Israel war, tabled the original motion that was being debated in parliament on Wednesday. This calls for an immediate ceasefire and “an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

Labour shifted its stance to call for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” on Tuesday through the tabling of its amendment in a bid to give MPs who were unhappy with the leadership’s previous handling of the issue the wording to rally behind.

The government also put down its own amendment to the SNP proposals – raising the possibility that the Commons speaker would not choose Labour’s amendment for a debate, leaving opposition MPs with the choice between voting for the government’s position, which does not go as far as calling for an immediate ceasefire, backing the SNP’s stance, or abstaining altogether.

However, Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle went against convention by selecting both the government and Labour tabled amendments to the motion for Wednesday's debate. Facing criticism from Tory benches, Hoyle explained that he wanted MPs to have the “widest possible range” of options in the Gaza ceasefire debate because of its importance.

Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Reuters)

The Commons speaker said: “This is a highly sensitive subject on which feelings are running high, in the House, in the nation, and throughout the world. I think it is important on this occasion that the House is able to consider the widest possible range of options.”

Here, Yahoo News UK breaks down what each party has said about the Gaza ceasefire…

SNP

The original SNP motion calls for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages held by Hamas and “an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”. The motion notes that the death toll has risen above 28,000 and states that “the only way to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians is to press for a ceasefire now”.

The SNP is united on this position and has been consistently calling for a ceasefire ever since the most recent conflict erupted in October last year. Scotland's first minister Humza Yousaf, whose wife's family were stuck in Gaza as Israel began its bombardment, previously urged Labour to back an immediate ceasefire with no caveats.

First Minister of Scotland and SNP leader Humza Yousaf alongside Westminster Leader Stephen Flynn after delivering a speech on the future of Scotland's Energy Sector and the UK general election, at His Majesty's Theatre, in Aberdeen. Picture date: Monday February 19, 2024.
Scottish first minister and SNP leader Humza Yousaf, left, and the SNP's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn, right, have urged Sir Keir Starmer to vote for their ceasefire motion. (PA)

He said: "Any political party that refuses to back it will be on the wrong side of history.”

The party’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said Labour leader Starmer would have to “explain his position” if he did not support the SNP’s motion. He argued it would be “untenable” for Starmer “to say that he backs an immediate ceasefire, but not vote for one”.

Labour

Labour’s amendment calls for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, emphasising this involves both sides agreeing to lay down their arms and the return of all hostages taken by Hamas. The party is also calling for a diplomatic process for achieving a two-state solution and a lasting peace.

The amendment states that an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah “risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences and therefore must not take place” and “notes the intolerable loss of Palestinian life”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday February 21, 2024.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is hoping to avoid a rebellion from his own MPs over the Gaza ceasefire vote. (PA)

Shadow development minister Lisa Nandy told Sky News on Wednesday morning that failing to back her party’s motion on a ceasefire in Gaza would mean “we will have missed an opportunity to put forward a serious proposal that allies Britain with our international allies and enables us all to speak with one voice at this critical moment”.

She also criticised the SNP for failing to discuss the wording of its motion with Labour beforehand, saying: “If they wanted to put a proposition before the House that all parties could have voted for, they could have discussed it with us, I think they would have chosen very different language.”

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy told the BBC on Tuesday that Labour's amendment "reflects the complexity of the situation" and the desire for "a lasting humanitarian ceasefire". He also criticised the SNP's motion, which he said "feels unbalanced".

Labour MPs are divided on the issue of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and Wednesday’s vote threatened reopen those divisions once again. A similar motion tabled by the SNP in November saw 10 shadow ministers and parliamentary aides rebel to back an immediate ceasefire, with 56 Labour members defying a three-line whip and backing an amendment to the King’s Speech.

Tories

The Conservative government has amended the SNP’s original motion to say that it “supports Israel’s right to self defence” but that ministers want an “immediate humanitarian pause” in the fighting. The amendment says that only then would it support “moves towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire” that involves Hamas freeing all hostages and relinquishing control of Gaza, and international efforts to create a two-state solution.

The amendment also “expresses concern” at the prospect of Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah, while calling for a scale up of aid flowing into Gaza. The government call on “all parties” to take “immediate steps to stop the fighting”.

The government has consistently resisted calling for an immediate ceasefire, arguing that it would allow Hamas to regroup before launching further attacks. Over the weekend, foreign secretary David Cameron argued for a “sustainable” ceasefire that would last for “days, years, generations”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday February 21, 2024.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak insists the governmnet does not back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. (PA)

In an article for The Sunday Times, Cameron wrote: "We do not believe that calling right now for a general and immediate ceasefire, hoping it somehow becomes permanent, is the way forward. It ignores why Israel is forced to defend itself: Hamas barbarically attacked Israel and still fires rockets to kill Israeli citizens every day. Hamas must lay down its arms."

The wider Tory party generally thinks in a similar way to this, and MPs are likely to vote for the government’s amendment. However, there are some within the party who have spoken out in favour of a permanent ceasefire.

In October last year, Tory MP Paul Bristow was sacked from his government job after breaking ranks to publicly urge Rishi Sunak to push for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The ministerial aide at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology had written to the prime minister saying it would save lives, and said that Palestinian civilians are facing a “collective punishment” as a result of Israel’s retaliatory siege and airstrikes campaign.

Lib Dem and other voices

The Liberal Democrat’s also tabled an amendment, calling for an “immediate bilateral ceasefire”, the release of hostages and a two-state solution with Hamas not in power. Party leader Sir Ed Davey has said that a military solution to eliminate Hamas “is not possible” and argued that an immediate ceasefire is the path to “lasting peace”.

Layla Moran attends the Israeli - Palestinian anti-hate vigil outside Downing Street on Whitehall, Westminster, London, England, UK
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who has family in Gaza, has reasserted her called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. (PA)

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran has previously spoken about her family in Gaza as she called for an immediate ceasefire. She told the government a ceasefire was needed as the violence was “making peace harder, not easier”.

Meanwhile, the Green Party’s only MP, Caroline Lucas, has signalled she will vote for the SNP motion. The party called for an immediate ceasefire on 9 October – two days after Hamas launched its deadly attack – and has since called for a scaling up of sanctions against Israel and accused the UK government of "complicity" in killing.

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