All eyes were on the House of Commons today as the Scottish National Party (SNP) proposed a motion for a vote on a ceasefire in Gaza, amid the rising casualties of the Israel-Hamas war. “It’s time to call a spade a spade. To any neutral observer, war crimes are being committed by Israel in Gaza,” the SNP said. “That is why the SNP will force a vote on a ceasefire this week in Westminster. Our first opportunity to do so.”
On Weds. Nov 4, the case was put in front of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who decides what motions are passed. It was established that parliament members would vote on the SNP motion in the evening, following the end of the debate on the King’s Speech. The vote has now passed, and the SNP's motion to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza was defeated. The final count was 293 to 125. There has been major fall-out following the vote, especially within the Labour party.
What happened at the House of Commons?
Earlier in the day, during the House of Commons' standard parliamentary meeting, Alison Thewliss, the Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow Central, pledged the SNP’s intent to vote for a ceasefire. “If we do not strive for peace, we condemn yet another generation in Palestine and Israel to a cycle of violence, to death and destruction beyond our imagination,” she said. “We will vote on the King's Speech tonight. We will vote on these amendments. It will not end the 70-year-old conflict. But it gives us a place to begin.”
Another SNP member, Stephen Flynn, also garnered attention with his plea. “How much worse does it need to get?” he asked. “4,609 children are already dead in Gaza. Babies in the neonatal intensive care unit are dying because they don’t have access to oxygen. For members across the House, this is a question of values and a question of conscience.”
Where did the Labour party leader stand on calls for a Gaza ceasefire?
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, leader of the ruling Conservative party, has been firm on his government's stance about not calling for a ceasefire, instead pledging for humanitarian pauses to the fighting. Meanwhile, Labour party leader Keir Starmer has also refused to back a ceasefire, despite mounting pressure from inside his own party. Among those calling for a ceasefire was Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf, who wrote a letter to the leader of the Labour party in Scotland, Anas Sarwar, urging him to confirm that Scottish Labour's MPs will vote for the motion.
Labour party members were instructed not to vote for the Scottish National Party motion. If they did vote for a Gaza ceasefire, they were reportedly at risk of being fired for disobeying party leadership. Alongside the SNP's motion, Starmer pushed for a Labour vote on the Gaza conflict in a bid to maintain party unity. The amendment proposed a call for an immediate humanitarian pause, highlighting the large number of civilian casualties, but stopping short of calling for a ceasefire.
How did Labour MPs react to the vote?
Ahead of the vote, over 70 Labour party representatives publicly called for a ceasefire, openly defying Starmer. Dozens of councilors resigned from the political party, with several prominent figures quitting today as a direct result of Starmer's stance on the ceasefire vote. Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, resigned from her position of Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding.
Explaining her move in a post on X (formerly Twitter), she wrote: “This week has been one of the toughest weeks in politics since I entered parliament. I have tried to do everything that I could to make it so that this was not the outcome, but it is with a heavy heart that I will be leaving my post in the shadow Home Office team."
She continued: "On this occasion, I must vote with my constituents, my head, and my heart which has felt as if it were breaking over the last four weeks with the horror of the situation in Israel and Palestine. I can see no route where the current military action does anything but put at risk the hope of peace and security for anyone in the region now and in the future.”
Afzal Khan, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, stepped down from his position of Shadow Minister for Legal Aid. Sharing his letter of resignation on social media, he wrote: "Today, I will be voting for the motion calling on the U.K. Government to support a #CeasefireNow in Gaza. With 11,000+ Gazans killed, supporting a full and immediate ceasefire is the very least we can do. In order to be free to do so, I have stepped down."
In response to the fall-out within his party, Starmer released a statement of his own. He addressed Hamas' Oct. 7 "terrorist attack" against Israel, before highlighting the "unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Gaza" that has since followed.
"At every stage during this crisis, my approach has been driven by the need to respond to both these tragedies," he remarked. "I regret that some colleagues felt unable to support the position tonight. But I wanted to be clear about where I stood, and where I will stand."
What is the reaction outside of the House of Commons following the defeated motion?
Protesters gathered outside of London's parliamentary buildings ahead of the vote, and the protests have continued following the defeated motion to call for a Gaza ceasefire.
Meanwhile, in an emailed statement, Amnesty International U.K.'s Chief Executive, Sacha Deshmukh, said: "This vote was a historic missed opportunity for MPs to show they genuinely support the protection of Palestinian and Israeli civilians. U.K. MPs who voted against a ceasefire have badly let them down."
The group concluded its statement with: "We will continue to call on all MPs to support a ceasefire on all sides to help prevent further catastrophic loss of civilian life in Israel and Gaza."
Write to Olivia-Anne Cleary at firstname.lastname@example.org.