Will Labour frontbenchers quit over Keir’s ‘Iraq War moment’? Starmer ‘won’t sack’ MPs calling for immediate ceasefire in Gaza as revolt reaches shadow cabinet with comparisons to Tony Blair
Keir Starmer is struggling to contain Labour unrest over his Israel stance today amid warnings he faces an ‘Iraq War moment’.
Sir Keir faces increasing dissent from senior frontbenchers over his refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza – instead backing the government’s position that there should be humanitarian pauses to allow aid in.
Mayors Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar are among those who have broken ranks.
And there were claims over the weekend that shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood is privately unhappy. Dozens of councillors have resigned in protest.
Shadow treasury minister Darren Jones made clear in a round of interviews this morning that there is no change to the party’s stance – but also suggested MPs who contradict it will not be disciplined.
And he dismissed comparisons with the meltdown Tony Blair faced over his support for the Iraq war, which effectively split the party.
Mr Jones insisted there was no ‘direct comparison’ because Britain was not directly involved in the conflict.
Keir Starmer is struggling to contain Labour unrest over his Israel stance today amid warnings he faces an ‘ Iraq War moment’
Smoke rises above Gaza yesterday amid the conflict sparked by Hamas slaughter of civilians in Israel on October 7
And there were claims over the weekend that shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood (pictured) is privately unhappy
Shadow treasury minister Darren Jones made clear in a round of interviews this morning that there is no change to the party’s stance – but also suggested MPs who contradict it will not be disciplined
One frontbencher told Politico that shadow ministers now faced a stark choice: ‘Break collective responsibility and call for a cease-fire and expect nothing to happen to you, or to follow your conscience … and resign.’
They added: ‘This could be his Iraq moment, but unlike Blair, he doesn’t have a three figure majority to squander seats going into the next election.’
Mr Jones was challenged on ITV’s Good Morning Britain that Sir Keir could end up on the ‘wrong side of history’ like Tony Blair.
‘I really don’t think there is a direct comparison between those two issues. I think they are very, very different for a whole host of quite complicated reasons…’
He added: ‘I would just say that I don’t think it is comparable to Iraq in any way. Britain is not involved in the conflict in the Middle East, it’s trying to organise access to humanitarian aid, it is trying to use diplomatic channels to bring peace as quickly as possible.’
Pressed on Sky News that Labour is ‘split’ on the Israel issue, Mr Jones said: ‘I don’t think splits is the right word… I think members of Parliament are making their case for the opinions that they hold.
‘Whether because they have personal views or because they are representing particular views on behalf of their constituents.
‘That’s a perfectly normal part of the job, it’s right and proper for them to do so.
‘Keir Starmer and other colleagues in the shadow cabinet have been listening to colleagues for a number of weeks now since events in the Middle East have started to unfold.
‘But there is a distinction between colleagues having personal views they wish to make representations on and what policy a party concludes it will take.’
On the issue in the Middle East at the moment I think Labour Party policy is very clear… ‘
Ms Mahmood is said to be calling for the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza to cease and has made her position clear internally.
And in a letter to her Birmingham Ladywood constituents, Ms Mahmood suggested Israel may be guilty of ‘collective punishment’ of civilians in Gaza, the Telegraph reported.
Local councillors across England have resigned from Labour to sit as independents amid the rift with the leadership’s position.
On Sunday, 35 councillors in the borough of Brent, north-west London, signed a statement pressing for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Yesterday Peter Kyle, the shadow science secretary, suggested Labour would not sack shadow ministers rebelling over the party’s position on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Mr Kyle told the BBC: ‘Well look, what we are going to do, I suspect, is continue engaging with them.’
Asked about the debate within Labour, he said: ‘I think the fact that we have a vigorous debate within our party, as we are doing as a country, and as we are doing actually as a globe right now, reflects a strength, because we have a leader that has channelled that and turned it into a policy that is in step with all of our international partners.’
Sir Keir has been under pressure to kick out rebel MPs, after hard-Left backbencher Andy McDonald was lambasted for using the ‘between the river and the sea’ chant during a rally at the weekend.
He said: ‘We will not rest until we have justice, until all people – Israelis and Palestinians – between the river and the sea can live in peaceful liberty.’
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously said the chant ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine must be free’ has become ‘a staple of anti-Semitic discourse’.
But Labour’s former shadow chancellor John McDonnell defended Mr McDonald’s language.
He said claims it was anti-Semitic were a ‘complete misinterpretation’.
He told Times Radio: ‘When that phrase was generated, it was actually a phrase about how people can live together. But there has to be justice for the Palestinians in that settlement.’
Tory MPs have urged Sir Keir to respond to his MPs’ comments.
Conservative former Cabinet minister Simon Clarke said: ‘We all know the connotations of the phrase ‘between the river and the sea’.
‘Andy McDonald knows exactly what he is doing by saying ‘Israelis and Palestinians’. He’s tiptoeing up to the line, and daring Labour to respond. Keir Starmer should.’
And Tory MP Robert Largan accused Mr McDonnell of ‘deliberate trolling the Jewish community’.
‘He is openly daring Starmer to remove the Whip,’ he added.
A Conservative spokesman said: ‘Just a few weeks ago Sir Keir said Labour was no longer the party of protest.
‘This week his own front bench is in open rebellion, the man he once wanted to be Chancellor is calling for negotiations with Hamas, and one of his ex-Shadow Cabinet Ministers is accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’.
‘If Starmer can’t keep his own party in order, how can he be trusted to run the country?’
Figures including Sadiq Khan (pictured), Andy Burnham and Anas Sarwar have defying Sir Keir’s message and called for a ceasefire in Gaza
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