Starmer insists party is united despite calls for him to quit over Gaza

The party leader said he was not focused on the “position of individuals” as he was grilled on the deepening chaos within Labour.

Sir Keir was challenged over calls from the leaders of Burnley and Pendle councils urging him to “step aside” over his refusal to call for a ceasefire in the conflict.

Mayors Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and 15 frontbenchers are among those who have diverged from the official party line.

At least 250 councillors have also called for a ceasefire, with around 30 councillors resigning from the party over the leadership’s position on the Israel-Hamas war.

Meanwhile, Andy McDonald, has been suspended as a Labour MP, over what the party described as “deeply offensive” comments at a pro-Palestinian rally.

Afrasiab Anwar, leader of Burnley Council, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday that he had tried appealing to the Labour leader but “everything that we’ve said has not been heard”. He said the call for Sir Keir to quit was a “last resort”.

Asjad Mahmood, leader of Pendle Borough Council, told the BBC that Sir Keir had “failed to listen” to calls for a ceasefire to “stop the innocent loss of lives”.

A poll has found that nearly a fifth of Labour councillors have considered walking away from the party over the Gaza position.

Sir Keir attempted to shift the agenda with a speech on domestic policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce yesterday but attention soon turned to his stance on the war.

Asked about calls for him to stand down, he said: “My focus is on alleviating the awful suffering of all of those that are caught up in the situation that has developed over the last few weeks.

READ MORE Rishi, practise Tory values and you can still win a General Election

“Whatever the individual positions of members of my party, that is not my focus. My focus is in driving forward to make sure that all of us can take responsibility for ensuring that we do what we can to alleviate that situation.”

He insisted a humanitarian pause was the “only practical way” to do this.

On calls for a ceasefire, he added: “To say to a sovereign country when 200 of its civilians are being held hostage that they must give up their right to self-defence, is not for me the correct position, and anyone who has watched the images in the last two or three days have seen what Hamas is saying about this.”

Asked how frustrated he was that his appearance in the North East was overshadowed by calls for him to back a ceasefire, he said: “I am not surprised that people are trying to go for any option that they see would alleviate the awful situation.

“I don’t think that should be taken as a great division.”

  • Advert-free experience without interruptions.
  • Rocket-fast speedy loading pages.
  • Exclusive & Unlimited access to all our content.

Sir Keir declined to say he would sack members of his shadow cabinet for calling for a ceasefire.

He said: “Collective responsibility is important. It’s my job as leader of the party to assess how we enforce and bring about collective responsibility and I will do so.

“But I’ve set out my position clearly. I am not doing so in accordance with particular views that individual members of the Labour Party may or may not take, that is not my central objective, and I do not think it should be the priority.”

Source: Read Full Article