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  1. Politics
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8 November 2023

Will more Labour frontbenchers follow Imran Hussain and resign?

The Bradford East MP has become the first shadow minister to stand down in order to campaign for a ceasefire in Gaza.

By Rachel Wearmouth

A Labour frontbencher has become the first to resign over Keir Starmer’s stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict as the party’s internal crisis deepens.

Imran Hussain, who served as shadow minister for the New Deal for Working People in deputy leader Angela Rayner’s team, wrote to the leader saying he cannot demand a ceasefire while staying in post.

He said it had “become clear that my view on the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza differs substantially from the position you have adopted”, adding that he wanted to be a “strong advocate” for a full ceasefire: “It is clear that I cannot sufficiently, in all good conscience, advocate for a ceasefire from the frontbench given its current position.”

The Bradford East MP was one of 18 frontbenchers to publicly call for a ceasefire before Starmer delivered a speech on the Middle East Chatham House last week.

In the speech, Starmer reaffirmed that Labour favoured humanitarian pauses, as opposed to a ceasefire, stating that the terror group Hamas would be handed a military advantage if a ceasefire was introduced. The leader also accepted it was up to him to enforce collective responsibility among the frontbench.

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But the move by Hussain, who aligned himself with the views of UN Secretary General António Guterres, Oxfam and Save The Children, underlines that deep divisions remain. The MP also said he was “deeply troubled” by the LBC interview Starmer gave on 11 October in which he appeared to endorse Israel cutting off power and water from Gaza – something which the leader’s spokesman has since suggested was a mistake.

Around 70 Labour MPs in total have defied the leadership and about 50 councillors have resigned from the party. Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, two of the party’s most senior Muslims politicians, have also demanded a ceasefire.

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson, speaking on Radio 4 this morning, said Labour’s position on humanitarian pauses was in line with the UK and US governments, adding that she recognised the “strength of feeling across our party”, adding: “What we all want to see and our primary focus is on making sure that aid does get in, but also in the long run that we see a lasting political settlement.

“That is the only way through this and it feels very distant at the moment, I recognise that, but what we all want is a viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel.” It is not yet clear if other frontbenchers may follow Hussain. Shabana Mahmood, the shadow justice secretary and one of the most senior figures known to have concerns about Labour’s position, yesterday tweeted indicating support for Starmer’s response to the King’s Speech. Her team has vehemently denied claims she is preparing to resign. Other frontbenchers in this position include Jess Phillips, Flo Eshalomi, Naz Shah and Yasmin Quereshi.

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