Starmer says ‘fighting must stop now’ in Gaza conflict

Sir Keir Starmer called for a “ceasefire that lasts” in Gaza – ahead of a vote in the Commons which risks re-opening Labour divisions on the issue.

The Labour leader, fresh from an appearance at a gathering of top politicians in Germany, said every conversation there had focused on what could be done to end the crisis in the Middle East.

“Not just for now, not just for a pause, but permanently. A ceasefire that lasts. That is what must happen now. The fighting must stop now,” he said in a a speech to the Scottish Labour conference.

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It comes a day after Scottish Labour unanimously backed a motion calling for an immediate end to the conflict.

However a Labour source suggested this was not what Sir Keir was endorsing and his comments are set within the context of any ceasefire being lasting and sustainable and coming from both sides, alongside the release of hostages.

Sir Keir’s position on the war in the Middle East has caused a rift within Labour, as many MPs want him to explicitly back an immediate end to the fighting.

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There are fears of a fresh row this week, when MPs will vote on a second SNP-led motion on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

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Anas Sarwar grilled over differences with UK Labour

In the previous vote in November, Sir Keir’s decision to favour “humanitarian pauses” led to the departure of 10 shadow ministers and parliamentary aides who rebelled to back a full ceasefire.

But the party’s position has hardened somewhat since then, with the Labour leader joining criticism of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of a two-state solution and talking about the need for a “sustainable ceasefire”.

The Labour leadership has not confirmed how its MPs would be asked to vote on the SNP motion. Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy suggested on Sunday it would depend on the wording.

The party is under pressure given the position of Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who described the SNP motion as “perfectly reasonable”.

Mr Sarwar himself is facing pressure to whip his two Scottish Labour MPs – Ian Murray and Michael Shanks – to vote for the SNP motion.

‘Not much difference’ between Scotland and UK Labour position

Earlier, he played down perceived differences between his position and that of Sir Keir.

He told Sunday Morning With Trevor Philips (SMTP) that Scottish Labour’s motion was not calling for Israel to “unilaterally” stop their actions in Gaza but rather, “an to end violence both ways”.

He said: “A ceasefire means the end of violence and rocket fire in Gaza, but also absolutely has to mean an end to rocket fire coming out of Gaza.

“It also includes the immediate release of hostages… alongside humanitarian aid needing to get in and the pathway to a two-state solution.

“In terms of where the position relates to the UK Labour Party and the Scottish Labour Party, I actually don’t think there’s much difference.”

Mr Sarwar said rather than focus on the position of two opposition parties, next week’s debate should focus on how to get parliament to find an agreement as a majority.

He said: “The Conservatives still have a majority in parliament.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar speaking during the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. Picture date: Monday October 9, 2023.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar. Pic: PA

“How do we get a majority that sends a unified message to Israel and in Palestine that we need the violence to stop right now? That should be our ambition rather than making this a debate about two opposition parties.”

Mr Lammy also sought to play down the idea that the party was divided on the issue, telling the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “I fully understand that Scottish colleagues want the fighting to stop now, we’ve been saying that for weeks, so we agree with them.”

But he added: “I’m not sure that what’s flying around on Twitter says anything about it being sustainable.

“You can have a ceasefire that lasts for a few days. We want the ceasefire to last and to be permanent and to move towards the diplomatic solution. It will only be a political solution that brings an end to this.”

He declined to say how MPs might vote, saying: “I haven’t seen the motion, it’s not yet put down, we will scrutinise that motion as is our way in Parliament and we will take it from there.”

SNP invites Starmer for meeting

Stephen Flynn during PMQs
Stephen Flynn has invited Starmer for a meeting

The SNP has now written to Sir Keir offering a meeting to discuss the vote.

In a letter to the Labour leader published on Sunday, the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said that death toll in the conflict has now risen to more than 29,000 and thousands more children have been killed. “It is long past time that the entire international community collectively said ‘stop’.”

Pointing to Mr Sarwar’s comments he said: “In the absence of contact from any of your Labour Party colleagues, I am now writing to make clear that I am of course willing to have such a discussion. Given the importance of this issue – literally a discussion on life and death – the very least the public would expect is that the leaders of the SNP and the Labour Party at Westminster can sit down and have a discussion on this ceasefire motion.

“I am therefore proposing, and offering, that we meet tomorrow to discuss Wednesday’s ceasefire motion. I will make sure my own diary is made flexible to ensure this meeting can take place as soon as possible.”