Keir Starmer urged by Muslim MPs to back Gaza ceasefire as he tries to cool tensions

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Muslim Labour MPs urged Sir Keir Starmer to call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as he sought to sooth their anger over his position on the conflict.

The Labour leader joined Rishi Sunak and the US in backing “humanitarian pauses” to deliver aid to Gaza as it faces a bombardment of airstrikes from Israel ahead of a potential ground invasion.

But Sir Keir has not backed the longer-lasting ceasefire as he supported Israel’s right to defend itself, a firm stance which triggered consternation within the party after he initially backed cutting off power and water in Gaza.

The comments, which he has since rowed back, prompted resignations among Labour councillors and angered the party’s MPs, even those on the frontbenches as shadow ministers.

Multiple sources at the meeting – held between Sir Keir, his deputy Angela Rayner, and around a dozen Muslim MPs, including shadow minister Afzal Khan – described it as a “constructive” exercise in which they expressed their grievances and those of their constituents.

The Labour leader released a statement saying that the amount of aid and essentials going into Gaza is “completely insufficient to meet the humanitarian emergency on the ground” and calling for supplies to be “urgently ramped up”.

He said that “we support humanitarian pauses” and said there “can only be a political solution to this crisis” as he urged for a restart of the talks to broker a two-state solution.

One MP who was at the meeting told the PA news agency Sir Keir was “in listening mode”, adding that “everybody was there had a chance to get things off their chest”.

The mood was described as “generally quite civilised” but also “quite firm, people said what they needed to say”.

“There was a consensus on the point that a ceasefire needs to be called. I don’t think he’s quite there yet,” the MP added.

“He said that things are moving, things are evolving, we’re already on the pause idea but we have to build consensus.”

The MPs were citing a YouGov poll from October 19 where more than three quarters of Britons said they would back an immediate ceasefire.

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, who was among those present, said it was a “very good” meeting

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme they “explained what we were experiencing on the street, our constituents and our councillors were going through and how do we start to move forward”.

“It is not a resigning issue, because we belong to a party for a purpose,” he added. “When you are outside of that you have no say, so I wouldn’t encourage anyone to resign.”

More than 150 Muslim Labour councillors urged Sir Keir and Ms Rayner to back an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, with his comments also sparking resignations from councillors.

In a letter, the councillors from areas including Barking and Dagenham, Birmingham, Bradford, Blackburn, Bolton and Glasgow, said the leadership had to work to end the “humanitarian disaster”.

“As Labour councillors elected to serve our constituents, the message we have been hearing repeatedly over the past two weeks is simple, people just want to end the bloodshed and the loss of innocent life,” they wrote.

“No nation, no people or community should have to endure collective punishment and the same should be the case for the Palestinian people.”

Sir Keir will continue his efforts to sooth the tensions within his party that erupted after Hamas’s atrocity on October 7.

Four days later he was asked on LBC if cutting off power and water to Gaza – home to more than two million Palestinians – was an appropriate response by Israel.

“I think that Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation,” he said.

“Obviously everything should be done within international law, but I don’t want to step away from the core principles that Israel has a right to defend herself and Hamas bears responsibility for the terrorist acts.”

It was not until October 20 that he sought to clarify his position as he acknowledged the “real concern and distress” caused, as councillors started resigning.

“I was saying that Israel has the right to self-defence, and when I said that right I meant it was that right to self-defence,” he told broadcasters.

“I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting defended Sir Keir on Wednesday, insisting that he had been “misrepresented” over the remarks.

“He misunderstood and acknowledged that people misinterpreted what he meant,” the frontbencher told Sky News.

“It was never Keir’s intention to give the impression that we support those measures. He’s been very clear throughout.”