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Government amendment on Gaza ceasefire vote puts Labour in a bind

The UK Government has put forward an amendment to counter the SNP’s Gaza ceasefire motion in a move that could expose Labour splits over the Middle East conflict.

Labour had looked to avoid another possible rebellion over the Israel-Hamas war by tabling an amendment to the Scottish nationalists’ motion demanding an immediate ceasefire.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party on Tuesday publicly shifted its stance to back a call for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, giving MPs who were unhappy with the leadership’s previous handling of the issue a wording to rally behind.

But the Government’s decision to table its own counter-amendment to the motion increases the likelihood that the Commons Speaker will not choose the Labour amendment for debate on Wednesday.

It could leave Labour MPs with the choice between voting for the Government’s position, which does not go as far as calling for an immediate ceasefire, and the SNP’s stance.

The debate will be going on as thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators are expected to take part in a rally in Parliament Square on Wednesday.

The Government amendment says ministers want an “immediate humanitarian pause” in the fighting before supporting “moves towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire” that involves Hamas freeing all hostages, the Palestinian militant group relinquishing control of Gaza and international efforts to create a two-state solution.

The amendment says it “supports Israel’s right to defence, in compliance with international humanitarian law”.

Labour has not said how it plans to vote if its own amendment is not backed.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy suggested neither the Government nor the SNP’s position reflected his party’s new stance.

Asked on Sky News how Labour could vote if only the SNP and Government wordings are chosen for debate, Mr Lammy said: “Look, the Speaker has yet to determine how he moves forward on the motions before him. Let us wait to see what the Speaker determines.

Lammy
David Lammy said the Government position on Gaza was not ‘satisfactory’ (Maja Smiejkowska/PA)

“I am of the view that we don’t need a temporary ceasefire as the Government’s calling for.

“I think we need much more than a pause… I don’t think that that position is satisfactory.”

He said the SNP wording was “not balanced” and urged the party to adopt Labour’s amendment.

Labour’s announcement of its amendment on Tuesday reflected a shift in stance.

Sir Keir had previously called for a “ceasefire that lasts” in the Middle East, but stopped short of using the word “immediate”.

The decision to back an immediate halt to the violence came as fears grew that Wednesday’s vote could reopen deep divides among Labour MPs on the war.

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.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Pro-Palestinian protesters are expected to gather in Parliament Square (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Labour would not discuss the consequences for MPs who vote against the whip or any order to abstain.

The party is still dealing with the internal fallout after the leadership took the highly unusual step of withdrawing support for its formal Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali after he suggested Israel took Hamas’s October attack as a pretext to invade Gaza.

Electoral rules mean Mr Ali’s name will appear on the ballot paper under Labour’s banner but the party is no longer supporting his candidacy.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn welcomed Labour’s change in policy on the Gaza conflict.

He told Sky there “appears to be agreement between ourselves and the Labour Party” over the need for an immediate ceasefire but questioned “why it has taken them so long to get here”.

Mr Flynn said Labour appeared to “have difficulties” in supporting the SNP’s motion because it says there has been “collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

He told the broadcaster: “I firmly believe that stopping people from having access to food, to water, to electricity, to medicines, from being unable to leave an area, is collective punishment of the Palestinian people for the abhorrent actions of Hamas.

SNP General Election campaign launch
SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn (Steve Welsh/PA)

“It will be for the Labour Party to explain why they don’t believe that that is collective punishment and why they don’t therefore want to vote for an immediate ceasefire.

“Some of these technicalities will be played out tomorrow.

“It will be for Keir Starmer to explain his position, because I think it would be untenable for him to say that he backs an immediate ceasefire, but not vote for one.”

Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel killed around 1,200 people, with around 250 taken hostage.

Militants still hold around 130 hostages, and a quarter are believed to be dead.

The war unleashed by the atrocity has killed at least 29,100 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales called for fighting to end “as soon as possible” and increased humanitarian support for Gaza.

In a statement ahead of visits to recognise the human suffering caused by conflict in the Middle East and the global rise in antisemitism, William said he was “deeply concerned” about the “terrible human cost” since the Hamas terror attack, and added there was a “desperate need” for increased humanitarian support for Gaza.

In New York, the US vetoed an Arab-backed and widely supported UN resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the four-month conflict.

Washington said the resolution would interfere with negotiations on a deal to free hostages abducted in Israel.

The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13-1, with the UK abstaining.