MP says he wants to be a “strong advocate for the humanitarian ceasefire” but currently can’t do so from Labour’s frontbench
Wednesday 8 November 2023 00:11, UK
Sky News reporters
Shadow minister Imran Hussain has quit Labour’s frontbench in protest at Sir Keir Starmer’s position on the Israel-Hamas war.
Mr Hussain’s decision will be a blow for the Labour leader, who has been attempting to hold his party together in an increasingly fractious debate over whether the leadership should back a ceasefire in Gaza.
In his resignation letter to Mr Starmer, Mr Hussain said: “It has become clear that my view on the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza differs substantially from the position you have adopted.
“I believe the party needs to go further and call for a ceasefire.”
The MP for Bradford East was explicit in condemning Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel, but said the situation in Gaza was horrific.
“As I write, more than 1,400 Israeli and over 10,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed in the last month,” he wrote.
“This shocking number of fatalities is set to grow as indiscriminate attacks and the siege of Gaza continues.”
Mr Hussain had been on Labour’s front bench for eight years, most recently as shadow minister for the new deal for working people.
He said he wanted to be a “strong advocate for the humanitarian ceasefire”.
“It is clear that I cannot sufficiently, in all good conscience, do this from the frontbench given its current position,” he wrote.
Mr Hussain said he was “deeply troubled” by Sir Keir’s comments on the war in an LBC interview last month and that the party must come out for a ceasefire.
Sir Keir has resisted calls for a full ceasefire on the grounds it would “embolden” Hamas and allow it to carry out similar attacks to 7 October, when 1,400 Israelis were killed and more than 200 taken hostage.
Instead, he has taken the same stance as the US and backed calls for a humanitarian pause to allow aid into Gaza, where the Hamas-run health ministry says more than 10,000 people have now been killed.
Despite attempting to hold off further rebellions with a series of interventions last week, the leader of Burnley Council and 10 other councillors resigned from Labour over Sir Keir’s decision not to push for a ceasefire.
Afrasiab Anwar, who has been in the party for 10 years, said it had been a “really difficult decision” to leave Labour and was among those calling for Sir Keir to step down on Thursday.
It takes the total number of councillors who have resigned over the row to 50, while 18 shadow ministers have defied the official Labour position by calling for a ceasefire, as well as London mayor Sadiq Khan, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.
Sir Keir has attempted to set out his reasoning for not backing a ceasefire as the calls from within his party grow louder.
In a speech last week, in which he sought to calm tensions over his position on the conflict, Sir Keir said he “understands” calls for a ceasefire but he did not believe it was the “correct position” to take.
He said a ceasefire “always freezes any conflict in the state where it currently lies” and would “embolden” Hamas and that a humanitarian pause was the “only credible approach” to the conflict in Gaza.
“Our current calls for pauses in the fighting, for clear and specific humanitarian purposes and which must start immediately, is right in practice as well as principle,” he argued.
“In fact it is at this moment, the only credible approach that has any chance of achieving what we all want to see in Gaza, the urgent alleviation of Palestinian suffering.
“And it’s why it is also a position shared by our major allies in the US and the EU.”