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Labour MPs given chance to vote for Starmer’s Gaza ‘immediate ceasefire’ stance

Labour MPs will be given the opportunity to rally behind Sir Keir Starmer’s updated stance pushing for an immediate Gaza ceasefire after his party’s wording was chosen for debate.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle announced that he had selected amendments tabled by Labour and the Government to the SNP’s Gaza ceasefire motion.

The move, which came in for criticism from the Conservatives and the SNP, means Labour MPs will be able to vote for Sir Keir’s stance, announced on Tuesday, calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in the Israel-Hamas war.

Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle
There was uproar in the chamber at Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s decision to choose the Labour amendment for debate (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

There had been suggestions that, with the Conservative Government also submitting an amendment stating its own position of wanting an “immediate humanitarian pause”, that the Speaker would not choose Labour’s amendment for debate.

Such an outcome could have pushed those Labour MPs in favour of a ceasefire towards backing the SNP motion, in a repeat of a damaging rebellion that was witnessed in the autumn on the Middle East issue.

In the chamber, there was uproar at Sir Lindsay’s decision to choose the Labour amendment for debate.

There were cries of “shameful” and “bring back Bercow” – a reference to the former speaker, Sir John Bercow, who was found guilty of bullying following a parliamentary investigation – as Sir Lindsay set out his reasoning behind selecting both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition’s amendments to the SNP motion.

Sir Lindsay, who was first elected as a Labour MP but followed tradition following his election as Speaker by relinquishing his party affiliation, explained that he wanted MPs to have the “widest possible range” of options on what he said was “a highly sensitive subject on which feelings are running high”.

Clerk of the House of Commons Tom Goldsmith, in a letter to Sir Lindsay that was made publicly available, warned that “long-established conventions are not being followed in this case”, stating that rival opposition amendments to an Opposition Day debate are not usually chosen alongside Government amendments.

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”.

But before that is voted on, Labour’s amendment will be debated, with the party also calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Labour emphasises that this involves both sides agreeing to lay down their arms and the return of all hostages taken by Hamas, and calling for a diplomatic process for achieving a two-state solution and a lasting peace.

The SNP has confirmed it will vote in favour of Labour’s position.

Stephen Flynn, the party’s Westminster leader, said: “We welcome the fact that Sir Keir Starmer has finally changed his position, following months of public and SNP pressure.

“While the Labour Party amendment is deficient in a number of ways, we will nonetheless vote for it to maximise the chance of the UK Parliament supporting an immediate ceasefire.

“Should it fall, we urge all MPs to back the SNP motion in kind.”

The Government amendment, which will be voted on if the Labour amendment falls, states that ministers want an “immediate humanitarian pause” in the fighting before supporting “moves towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire”.

The conditions of that ceasefire would involve Hamas freeing all hostages and relinquishing control of Gaza, and international efforts to create a two-state solution, according to the amendment.

Israel Palestinians
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry estimates more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed during the conflict (Fatima Shbair/AP)

Differences over whether to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza have previously caused problems for the Labour Party.

The leadership appeared to pre-empt that Wednesday’s vote could reopen those divisions once again by tabling its own ceasefire wording.

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

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.

MPs who had previously rebelled to back the SNP have suggested they could vote for Labour’s new position on Wednesday.

The Commons debate will take place as thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators are expected to take part in a rally in Parliament Square.

It also follows an intervention by the Prince of Wales, who called for fighting to end “as soon as possible” and increased humanitarian support for Gaza.

The debate over the Middle East conflict was raised a number of times during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, as SNP MPs looked to urge the Commons to back calls for an immediate ceasefire.

In response, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK was “doing absolutely everything we can to bring about an immediate humanitarian pause”, a moment he argued could help free hostages and release more aid into Gaza.

But he added: “Just calling for an immediate full ceasefire now, which collapses back into fighting in days or weeks, would not be in anyone’s interest.”

The war began when Hamas-led militants rampaged into southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage.

The Palestinian militant group officially still holds around 130 captives but about a quarter of those are believed to be dead.

Israel has laid waste to much of the Palestinian territory during its retaliation.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry estimates more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed during the conflict, which has now been raging for more than four months.