Labour frontbenchers in revolt over Gaza stance as Starmer warned he could lose seats

Sir Keir Starmer has been warned Labour could lose seats over his stance on the Hamas conflict, as more frontbenchers defied his leadership by openly calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

A host of shadow ministers broke ranks with Sir Keir on Saturday to voice their support for the move – either with express endorsements or by sharing a demand from the Labour Friends of Palestine group.

Shadow ministers Naz Shah, Paul Barker and Afzal Khan all challenged Sir Keir’s refusal to support a ceasefire. Shadow veterans minister Rachel Hopkins, shadow local government minister Sarah Owen and shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips, and Labour whip Kim Leadbeater all retweeted calls for a ceasefire on X/Twitter.

It means 13 frontbenchers are now opposed to Mr Starmer’s position. Labour MPs have told The Independent that at least 100 of Sir Keir’s MPs – half his parliamentary party – want him to shift stance to avoid losing further support.

They warned the Labour leader that the party faces an “existential threat” in seats with a large number of Muslim voters, as councillors quit and local parties pass motions in favour of a ceasefire.

It comes as a YouGov survey found that 42 per cent of 2019 Labour voters think Sir Keir has handled his response to the conflict badly, while only 26 per cent think he has responded well.

Ms Shah, Mr Starmer’s shadow minister for crime reduction, appeared to stray furthest from the leadership’s position, accusing Israel of “disproportionate attacks on a civilian population” with a post on X, adding: “We cannot be silent.”

Shadow exports minister Mr Khan tweeted: “We need an immediate ceasefire now.” And Ms Barker, who is shadow devolution minister, said she “fully supports these calls”.

Ms Hopkins and Ms Owen – both said to be on resignation watch over the issue – retweeted a ceasefire demand by Labour Friends of Palestine. Shadow solicitor-general Andy Slaughter also retweeted the statement, while Ms Phillips and Ms Leadbeater retweeted UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s call for a ceasefire.

Keir Starmer is under huge pressure to change his stance on a ceasefire (PA)
Keir Starmer is under huge pressure to change his stance on a ceasefire (PA)

Shadow minister for small business, Rushanara Ali, shadow development minister Yasmin Qureshi, shadow levelling up minister Imran Hussain, shadow democracy minister Florence Eshalomi, and Mary Foy, a principal private secretary to Angela Rayner, all indicated support for a ceasefire earlier this week.

Ms Phillips criticised Israel’s cutting of communication to Gaza, saying: “How can this be a solution?” Senior Labour MP Sarah Champion, chair of the international development committee, also condemned the move. She said: “How can this be a proportionate response?”

London mayor Sadiq Khan, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar all broke ranks on Friday to challenge Sir Keir’s stance.

Sir Keir has joined Rishi Sunak in calling for a “humanitarian pause” to allow aid to enter Gaza. But he has consistently argued that Israel has the right to defend itself after the attack by Hamas terrorists.

The Labour leader has also angered many in the party with comments on LBC Radio in which he appeared to back the cutting of power and water to Gaza – which he clarified 10 days later, insisting: “I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines.”

One Labour MP said Mr Starmer had made a “catastrophic decision” to stick with Israel “unconditionally” – arguing that it had alienated millions of voters. “He’s got himself into a serious mess,” they said.

The backbencher told The Independent: “There is an existential threat to a lot of Labour seats with a large number of Muslims voters. I know it’s about a humanitarian disaster – but people do count numbers and worry about their seats. There are MPs on the right of the party and soft left who are very uneasy.”

They added: “A wide group are really, really unhappy. I would say around 100 MPs [want a ceasefire]. The numbers are moving away from him [Sir Keir] quite rapidly. So I can’t see how the position will hold, especially if there’s wider escalation in the conflict.”

Keir Starmer visited the South Wales Islamic Centre mosque last weekend (Labour Party)
Keir Starmer visited the South Wales Islamic Centre mosque last weekend (Labour Party)

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, who helped organise a meeting between Sir Keir and Muslim MPs this week, said: “I certainly hope Keir does [back a ceasefire]. We had a very productive meeting. We were heard, we’re now in dialogue. That’s positive.”

While more than 50 MPs have gone public with their support for a ceasefire, many more are believed to be unhappy – and four shadow cabinet ministers are reportedly on resignation watch as the leadership battles to shore up support for the position.

Another Labour MP said there were “easily” 100 MPs who wanted to change the position. They added: “I fear there will be people around Starmer telling him he needs to stick to backing the US and Israel – telling him he has to be willing to burn our base.”

Over 300 Labour councillors have now signed an open letter to Sir Keir backing calls for a ceasefire. And the Romford Constituency Labour Party (CLP) voted unanimously for a motion backing a ceasefire and opposing an Israeli ground invasion – the first CLP to do so.

Party sources made clear the Labour leader was not about to change his position on Friday despite the revolt from the mayors in London and Greater Manchester and the Scottish party leader.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Of course, we understand why people want to call for a ceasefire. The Palestinian people are not Hamas, and they are suffering terribly. That’s why we support humanitarian pauses ... We also have to recognise Israel was subject to a vile terrorist attack. Israel has a right and a duty to defend itself.”

Meanwhile, ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed pro-Palestine protesters in Parliament Square on Saturday. He was scathing about the government’s decision to abstain on a UN general assembly vote on a humanitarian truce. “It is an eternal stain that the British government abstained on that vote,” said Mr Corbyn.

Senior Tory MP Alicia Kearns, chair of parliament’s foreign affairs select committee, said she supported the humanitarian truce voted for in the UN. The UK government criticised the motion’s failure to include unequivocal condemnation of Hamas’s terrorist attacks.