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When is today's Gaza ceasefire vote and what could it mean?

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

The UK Government has put forward an amendment to counter the SNP’s Gaza ceasefire motion in a move that could reveal splits in the Labour Party over the Israel-Hamas war.

It had looked like Labour would avoid another possible rebellion over the Middle East conflict 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” for the first time, giving MPs who were frustrated with the leadership’s previous handling of the issue something to support. The move comes after weeks of pressure on the issue, both internally and from the rival SNP.

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.

The Government amendment says ministers want an “immediate humanitarian pause” in the fighting before supporting “moves towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire”, but only after a long list of conditions are met. These involve 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 called.

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.

What are MPs voting on?

Both the SNP’s and Labour’s amendments call for a ceasefire, but have differences in wording, with Labour’s including softer language towards Israel.

The Labour amendment calls for work to deliver a two-state solution in the region, and restates the importance of recognising a Palestinian state as a “contribution to rather than outcome of” any peace process.

But Labour’s amendment states that “Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence,” while the SNP motion does not.

Labour’s amendment also removes the phrase “collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” which the SNP motion contains. Collective punishment – indiscriminate punishment inflicted on civilians – is illegal under international law.

The amendment has already come under fire from some left-wing Labour supporters, with the Momentum pressure group saying that “by making its call for a cease-fire so conditional and caveated, the Labour leadership is giving cover for Israel’s brutal war to continue.”

Labour had previously only backed calls for a “sustainable” ceasefire, in line with the Government’s position.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said Labour had shifted because the situation in Gaza had "evolved".

The Commons Speaker will choose on Wednesday morning which amendment to call.

Many in the Labour party believe that if the Speaker chooses the Government amendment, dozens of Labour MPs will vote instead for the SNP motion, in what would be another blow to Starmer’s authority.

When is the vote?

The vote will take place today, on the evening of Wednesday, February 21.

Who has publicly backed a ceasefire?

A number of British MPs and politicians have publicly called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Among the first was Sadiq Khan, who posted a video on X asking for a ceasefire in October 2023. “I join the international community in calling for a cease-fire,” he said. “It will stop the killing and would allow vital aid supplies to reach those who need it in Gaza, but it will also allow the international community more time to prevent a protracted conflict in the region and further devastating loss of life.”

Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, also took to X to announce his support for a ceasefire in October last year.

Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, previously denounced the Labour Party and the UK government for not pressing Israel for an urgent ceasefire.

SNP leader Stephen Flynn, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and former shadow domestic abuse and safeguarding minister for Labour Jess Phillips have all also publicly called for a ceasefire.