Sadiq Khan challenges Keir Starmer over Gaza: London mayor becomes most high-profile Labour figure to demand a ceasefire with a quarter of its MPs now calling for end to bloodshed while leader backs Israel’s right to defend itself

Sadiq Khan launched a direct challenge to Labour leader Keir Starmer‘s authority today as he backed demands for a full ceasefire in Gaza.

The London mayor became the most high profile figure to back calls for a complete break in fighting between Israel and Hamas that has claimed thousands of lives since the Palestinian terrorists’ brutal raid.

Sir Keir has joined Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is calling for a ‘humanitarian pause’ in fighting but has also backed Israeli‘s right to defend itself and retrieve hostages taken by Hamas.

It has sparked a full-scale Labour battle, with a quarter of his MPs joining Mr Khan in calling for an end to fighting to let aid into the besieged enclave.  

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar this afternoon added his weight to the call with his own ceasefire demand.

Last night it was revealed MPs have been offered increased security after facing direct threats from constituents who have labelled them ‘traitors’ and ‘backstabbers’.

But the leadership and Sir Keir’s other allies are resisting pressure to alter their position, despite claims it is costing the party Muslim votes.

In a video posted online this morning the London mayor said: ‘Thousands of innocent civilians have already been killed in Israel and Gaza. With the humanitarian crisis set to deteriorate even further, I’m calling for a ceasefire.’

The Labour leader has only gone so far as to call for ‘humanitarian pauses’ to allow aid into the besieged territory

The London mayor became the most high profile figure to back calls for a complete break in fighting between Israel and Hamas that has claimed thousands of lives since the Palestinian terrorists' brutal raid.

The London mayor became the most high profile figure to back calls for a complete break in fighting between Israel and Hamas that has claimed thousands of lives since the Palestinian terrorists’ brutal raid.

Shadow environment secretary Steve Reed today said that while the only long-term solution to the crisis was political, rather than military, Israel had the right to take action.

Shadow environment secretary Steve Reed today said that while the only long-term solution to the crisis was political, rather than military, Israel had the right to take action.

Parents and children bring teddy bears and other soft toys representing children killed in Gaza, to the gates of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London at a protest organised by Parents for Palestine calling for the UK government to withdraw its support for Israel.

Parents and children bring teddy bears and other soft toys representing children killed in Gaza, to the gates of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London at a protest organised by Parents for Palestine calling for the UK government to withdraw its support for Israel.

At least one shadow minister has been accosted at home by a constituent demanding answers over Labour’s refusal to call for a ceasefire, The Times reported. 

Leftwing figures have also been circulating claims that the row could cost the party seats with large Muslim communities.

But shadow environment secretary Steve Reed today said that while the only long-term solution to the  crisis was political, rather than military, Israel had the right to take action.

‘What I would say to colleagues is if this attack that Israel suffered had been on the UK, if it had been on the US, our state, the United States and our state would have sought to defend ourselves to protect our citizens by dismantling the capability of a terrorist organisation that carried it out,’ he told Sky News.

‘That applies to Israel too, they have the right under international law to do that.’

Meanwhile former Labour shadow minister Lord Walney told the Jewish Chronicle: ‘Now, when the issue is standing with Israel against the most grotesque anti-Semitic butchery imaginable, it would be inexcusable for anyone in Labour to use the threat of ”losing Muslim votes” to pressure Sir Keir Starmer to change his position.’

What did Keir say in his LBC radio interview?

Labour’s row over the Middle East crisis has centred on Sir Keir Starmer’s comments in a radio interview with LBC’s Nick Ferrari on October 11.

Sir Keir appeared to suggest Israel had the right to besiege Gaza by cutting off power and water to the territory.

But the Labour leader has since sought to clarify his position and said he has never backed Israel’s right to cut off supplies.

Here’s what was said in the LBC interview: 

Ferrari: ‘Sir Keir Starmer, what is a proportionate response in your view?’

Sir Keir: ‘I think the first thing I have to say is responsibility lies with Hamas.

‘This is coldblooded murder of men, women, even children. It is terrorism, and Israel has the right to defend herself.

‘And there are ongoing situations with hostages, and Israel has the right to do everything that it can to get those hostages back safe and sound.

‘And therefore I’m very clear, Israel must have that, does have that right to defend herself. And Hamas bears responsibility.’

Ferrari: ‘ A siege is appropriate? Cutting off power, cutting off water, Sir Keir?’

Sir Keir: ‘I think that Israel does have that right, it is an ongoing situation — obviously, everything should be done within international law but I don’t want to step away from the sort of core principles that Israel has a right to defend herself and Hamas bears responsibility for these terrorist acts.

‘And I would call on all responsible states, particularly Middle East responsible states, to call this out for what it is, and to stand with the world in condemning, utterly condemning, these actions by Hamas.’

Frontbenchers say there is a ‘real fear’ that a ‘lone wolf’ could be pushed over the edge by the continuing tensions and commit an act of terror.

Yesterday the party’s chief whip, Alan Campbell, wrote to MPs acknowledging the ‘heightened security concerns’, adding: ‘I know this has been a very difficult period for colleagues and we appreciate the pressure that you are under as a leader in your community.’

A separate email from John Cryer, the party’s chairman for security and wellbeing, said MPs’ local police forces should be in contact to discuss heightened security.

More than four Labour frontbenchers are now on resignation watch amid fears the party could reach ‘breaking point’ over Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on Gaza.

Pressure has continued to build on the Labour leader to shift his position on the conflict, holding crisis talks with Muslim MPs on Wednesday amid reports that some were considering resigning.

Shadow faith minister Sarah Owen is among the Labour frontbenchers said to be on resignation watch. Her Luton North constituency has a large Muslim population.

It is feared by senior Labour figures that shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Hopkins, who represents neighbouring Luton South, might also jump ship.

Yesterday shadow minister Imran Hussain became the first frontbencher to sign a motion demanding an immediate ceasefire and an ‘end to the total siege of Gaza’. 

The Early Day Motion is now signed by 39 Labour MPs, while a further six have publicly called for a ceasefire.

Bradford East MP Mr Hussain lined up alongside 38 other Labour MPs who are backing the parliamentary motion calling for ‘an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities’ in the Palestinian territory.

The 45-year-old, who backed Jeremy Corbyn to become Labour leader in 2015, last night posted on social media from a meeting with the Palestinian ambassador, Husam Zumlot, in Parliament.

Mr Hussain was elected in Bradford East in 2015, having been beaten in neighbouring Bradford West in a 2012 by-election by George Galloway. 

He nominated Mr Corbyn to become leader and was later shadow minister for justice and for international development in his Cabinet.

Last night he tweeted a picture from a meeting with Mr Zumlot, writing: This is the #Gaza update we received from the Palestinian Ambassador Husam Zumlot this evening. 

‘Over 6,000 Palestinians killed. Disease spreading through contaminated water. Incubators on the brink of shutting off.’

That followed an attack on Foreign Secretary in a Commons debate on Tuesday, when he said: ‘Since I raised this question with the Prime Minister last week, indiscriminate airstrikes and a total siege blocking food, water and medical supplies have killed thousands of innocent Palestinian men and women and more than 1,000 children. 

‘Let us be absolutely clear in this House: this is now beyond a humanitarian catastrophe. Even as we stand here today, innocent blood continues to be spilt on the streets of Gaza, and mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, bakeries, water plants and homes continue to be flattened by the Israeli military.

‘I have a very simple question for the Foreign Secretary. Just what will it take? How many thousands of innocent Palestinians must be slaughtered before this Government condemn the brutality and bloodshed?’

The Labour leader has only gone so far as to call for 'humanitarian pauses' to allow aid into the besieged territory (Pictured: Pro-Palestinian protesters march through London)

The Labour leader has only gone so far as to call for ‘humanitarian pauses’ to allow aid into the besieged territory (Pictured: Pro-Palestinian protesters march through London)

Last night a voting sentiment survey showed Labour support among Muslim voters dropping from 71 per cent at the 2019 election to just five per cent currently

Last night a voting sentiment survey showed Labour support among Muslim voters dropping from 71 per cent at the 2019 election to just five per cent currently

The Early Day Motion is now signed by 39 Labour MPs, while a further six have publicly called for a ceasefire.

The Early Day Motion is now signed by 39 Labour MPs, while a further six have publicly called for a ceasefire.

The Labour leader has only gone so far as to call for ‘humanitarian pauses’ to allow aid into the besieged territory. Scores of his own backbenchers are now ‘fuming’ over his unwillingness to listen.

However, the divisions within the party could be greater than previously thought, with more than just four frontbenchers said to be considering their future. A senior Labour figure told the Mail: ‘There are a lot more than four frontbenchers on resignation watch after this. It’s not just the ones reported.

‘Keir can’t be complacent because he’s won a few by-elections. It’s become really tough in our constituencies – this is proving bigger than the Iraq War response.’

‘People are p****d off and really upset – most MPs feel like they got nothing from the meeting when they saw the statement after.

‘They’re asking why, after the Government have followed Labour on policy for everything else, are we now copying whatever Rishi says on Gaza,’ a source familiar with discussions said last night.

‘There will be a breaking point soon enough. And once one person goes, others will follow like dominoes.’

More than 250 councillors have written to Sir Keir to urge him to back a ceasefire, while frontbencher Yasmin Qureshi defied the leadership by asking Mr Sunak if he would back the policy during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

Last night a voting sentiment survey showed Labour support among Muslim voters dropping from 71 per cent at the 2019 election to just five per cent currently.

Leave a Comment