Ceasefire right now: UK South Asian-origin MPs speak up for Gaza

UK Parliament in turmoil as Labour MPs defy party stance, voting for Gaza ceasefire amidst internal strife and shadow ministers' resignations

Gaza ceasefire debate grips UK Parliament (Screen grab of UK House of Commons' discussion from @NazShahBfd/X)
Gaza ceasefire debate grips UK Parliament (Screen grab of UK House of Commons' discussion from @NazShahBfd/X)


The UK House of Commons saw dozens of British lawmakers voting this week to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza, defying the government and the main opposition party's stance that instead pledges for humanitarian pauses to the fighting.

A major fallout of the Humza Yousaf-led Scottish National Party's (SNP) amendment vote for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza -- which was defeated by 125 votes to 294 -- was seen among the Labour party MPs, including many of South Asian-origin.

More than a third of 198 Labour MPs went against their party line to vote in favour of the amendment, including 10 front benchers, eight of whom are shadow cabinet members and two are parliamentary aides.

“Too many parents have had to bury their children in Gaza. Too many children have become orphaned. Too many have suffered. And for far too long. A ceasefire would enable a humanitarian corridor and the crucial delivery of immediate aid to those in desperate need," SNP's Pakistan-origin leader, Yousaf, said in a statement.

The death toll from an ongoing Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip has surpassed 12,000, including over 5,000 children and 3,000 women, according to latest figures by the Palestinian government media office in the besieged enclave.

Some 3,750 other people remain unaccounted for, including 1,800 children, according to the statement, and according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) statistic, a child has been killed every 10 minutes.

"I will continue to raise my voice to demand an immediate ceasefire. “We cannot allow this humanitarian catastrophe to go on for a second longer,” Yousaf said.

Speaking at the House of Commons, Nadia Whittome, British-Indian Labour MP for Nottingham East, asked: "How many more must die before the government joins calls for a ceasefire?"

"In the past month, one in every 200 residents of Gaza have been killed by Israeli forces. More than 40 per cent were children. This doesn't include everyone who may have died due to lack of clean water, or the collapse of the healthcare system after fuel was cut off," Whittome spoke, addressing the Deputy Speaker.

"How many more people must die before the government joins the UN Secretary-General, WHO, UNICEF, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam and the UN General Assembly in calling for an immediate ceasefire?"

Toeing in her party's line, Indian-origin Liberal Democrat MP, Munira Wilson, called for an immediate bilateral ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict to get aid in, get the hostages out, and provide space to realise a political solution.

After the SNP vote, eight shadow ministers stepped down from the frontbench, including Pakistan-origin MP from Manchester Gorton, Afzal Khan who said that it is "extremely painful" to watch the sheer scale of displacement due to the war.

"We need a full and immediate ceasefire. Now, my constituents have demanded this and I will not refuse them. supporting a ceasefire is the very least we can do," Khan, who stepped down as Shadow Minister for Exports this week, said.

In her letter of resignation to Labour leader Keir Starmer, MP Yasmin Qureshi wrote that anything short of a ceasefire will lead to the loss of more lives.

"The situation in Gaza desperately requires an immediate ceasefire to address the humanitarian catastrophe and to advance moves towards a political solution that brings freedom, prosperity, and security. Only through a humanitarian ceasefire can aid be reliably delivered into Gaza," Qureshi, who stepped down as Shadow Women and Equalities Minister, wrote.

"Today, I voted for an immediate ceasefire. For the people of Palestine, every minute, every hour, every day we wait is another orphan, another grieving mother and another family wiped out! We must act now to protect civilian life," Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, wrote on X.

Shah, who stepped down as the Shadow Minister for Crime Reduction, told Sky News that her email inbox is full of messages from constituents who agree with her position.

Ahead of the vote, Labour had told its members that they stood at the risk of being fired for defying the party's leadership by voting in favour of the SNP motion.

Party leader Keir Starmer refused to back a ceasefire, and instead called for a Labour vote on the Gaza conflict, which called for an immediate humanitarian pause but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.

According to the UN, a “humanitarian pause” is a “temporary cessation of hostilities purely for humanitarian purposes”. Such a pause would allow Israel to continue its combat against Hamas after a brief period.

Last month, senior Labour figures -- London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar -- called for an immediate ceasefire, saying that while Israel “has a right to defend itself”, it does not have a right to break international law.

“We need to see the immediate release of hostages, immediate access to humanitarian supplies … and the immediate cessation of violence with an end to rocket fire into and out of Gaza,” Sarwar said in a video message posted on X.

“Let me be clear: that means a ceasefire right now,” he added.

According to Canary, a UK-based news website, more than 125 000 people had contacted their MPs in the last three days to demand they vote for a ceasefire in Gaza.

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Published: 20 Nov 2023, 11:48 AM