Sir Keir Starmer is battling to convince Labor MPs he has got the right stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict – with up to four shadow cabinet members said to be quitting last night.
The Labor leader faces growing unrest among his own MPs, with dozens signing a motion calling on the British government to call for an immediate ceasefire.
Sir Keir was forced to hold tough talks with a group of Muslim Labor MPs to address his anger at the handling of the crisis – including comments in which he appeared to support cutting off electricity and water to Gaza.
Sarah Owen, the shadow faith minister, and Rachel Hopkins, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, are among the four leaders considering stepping down, according to The times.
Frontbencher Yasmin Qureshi, a shadow equality minister, also defied the leadership by calling for a ceasefire at PMQs this week. A Labor Party spokesman did not say whether he would be punished.
Meanwhile, more than 150 Muslim Labor councilors have signed a letter to Sir Keir calling on him to support a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
The Labor leader joined the prime minister in backing “humanitarian pauses” on aid to Gaza as it faces airstrikes from Israel ahead of a ground invasion.
But Sir Keir has not supported a long-term ceasefire and is still trying to calm anger within the party for appearing to support cutting off electricity and water to Gaza. This was in an interview with LBC just days after the October 7 Hamas terror attack.
The comments – which he has since sought to qualify – led to the resignation of several Labor councilors and angered MPs.
Some sources at Wednesday's meeting – held between Sir Keir, his deputy Angela Rayner and around a dozen Muslim MPs, including shadow export minister Afzal Khan – described it as a “constructive” exercise in which grievances were aired.
An MP who was at the meeting said Sir Keir was “in listening mode”, adding that MPs “had a chance to get things off their chest”. The mood was described as “generally quite civilized” but also “fairly stable”.
Mr Khan added: “There was a consensus that there should be a ceasefire. I don't think it's there yet. He said that things are moving, things are evolving, we are already on the idea of a pause, but we need to build consensus.”
said a veteran Labor MP The independent Sir Keir's initial comments on the conflict were “by no means acceptable”, but he said he had not “fully acknowledged” the mistake.
The MP said the majority of Labor MPs wanted Sir Keir to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, adding that there was “a lot of talk” about it in the backbenches. “The sooner he asks for it, the better. You don't want to wait for thousands more people to be killed,” he added.
MPs also cite a YouGov poll from October 19 in which more than three-quarters of Britons said they would support an immediate ceasefire.
The Islamic Center of South Wales accused Sir Keir of “seriously misinterpreting” his talks with Muslim leaders during a visit to the mosque at the weekend.
The Labor leader sparked outrage after sharing photos of the meeting on X, claiming he had “made it clear that it is not and has never been my view that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicine”.
Sir Keir also issued a statement on Wednesday saying the amount of aid and essentials going to Gaza is “grossly inadequate” and called for an urgent increase in supplies.
Labor MP Khalid Mahmood, who was among those in attendance, said it was a “very good” meeting. He told BBC Radio 4 AFTER NOON program: “It is not a question of resignation, because we belong to a party for a purpose. When you're out of it, you have no say, so I'm not going to urge anyone to quit.”
A letter from 150 councillors, from areas including Barking and Dagenham, Birmingham, Bradford, Blackburn, Bolton and Glasgow, said: “No nation, no people or community should have to endure collective punishment and the same it must apply to the Palestinian people. .”
On 10 October, Sir Keir was asked on LBC whether cutting off electricity and water to Gaza – home to more than 2 million Palestinians – was the appropriate response from Israel. “I think Israel has that right. It's an ongoing situation,” he said.
It was not until October 20 that he tried to clarify his position. “I was saying that Israel has the right to self-defense, and when I said that right, I meant that it was that right to self-defense,” he told television stations. “I was not saying that Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicine.”