Keir Starmer defends his call for humanitarian pause in Gaza, saying it is quickest way to provide help – as it happened | Politics
Starmer is now taking questions.
Q: Two Labour council leaders say you should resign. The Labour party seems horribly divided. What are you doing about that?
Starmer says he understands why people feel strongly about this, not just in the Labour party, but across the country.
He says this, to him, is not about Labour’s position. It is about alleviating suffering. Innocent children are dying.
He says he thinks the quickest and most practical way to get help to people is to have a humanitarian pause.
He says the US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, is in Israel calling for this now.
UPDATE: Starmer said:
For me, this isn’t about the particular position taken by individuals within the Labour party. It’s about alleviating that suffering. And, just at the moment, we desperately need humanitarian aid to get in faster into Gaza.
We can see the images of children and innocent civilians dying and suffering in this situation.
I think that the quickest way, and the most practical and effective way to get that changed, is to have a humanitarian pause and to pile on the pressure to get those trucks in with the aid that is needed – the water, the medicines, the fuel that is desperately, desperately needed.
Now as we speak, Secretary of State Blinken is in Israel, calling for those very things, in alignment with what I said just two or three days ago …
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.
Rishi Sunak has described pro-Palestinian protests planned for London on Armistice Day as “provocative and disrespectful”. But Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, accused Sunak of being “deeply irresponsible”. He said:
We have made clear that we have no intention of marching anywhere near Whitehall out of respect for events taking place at the Cenotaph. The march will begin around 1245 nearly 2 hours after the minutes silence of commemoration for the war dead.
Given these facts we are deeply alarmed by members of the government, including the prime minister, issuing statements suggesting that the march is a direct threat to the cenotaph and designed to disrupt the Remembrance Day commemorations. Such statements are encouraging the calls from far right activists and commentators inciting action on the streets to stop the protests taking place, and are deeply irresponsible.
Given the wider context of the previous statements by the home secretary seeking to demonise all of those marching in support of the rights of the Palestinian people, it is clear that these comments are in reality motivated by a desire to suppress widespread public support for an end to Israel’s bombardment of the people of Gaza.
Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, has said that he has asked Israel to “strain every sinew” to get aid into Gaza.
Speaking on a visit with his Australian counterpart, Richard Marles, to the Rolls-Royce site in Derby, where parts of the nuclear submarines being made under the Aukus partnership are manufactured, Shapps said Israel had a right to go after Hamas, but that it should follow international law. He said:
The important thing is that Israel is, of course, a democratic country that has a responsibility to adhere to international humanitarian law, and that’s a point that I make publicly as well as privately to the Israelis, including in a meeting yesterday with the Israeli ambassador in London.
And commenting on that meeting, Shapps said:
I had the (Israeli) ambassador in with me yesterday and we’ve said that we want Israel to do everything possible, strain every sinew, to get that aid in. We wouldn’t be paying for it and sending the aid if we didn’t want it to get to the Palestinian population.
Rishi Sunak issued a statement earlier saying he wanted the Home Office and the police to ensure Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday events in London next weekend are not disprupted by pro-Palestinian protesters. (See 1.25pm.) This is clearly a popular cause on the right. Richard Tice, leader of Reform UK (the successor to the Brexit party) has just put out a statement saying pro-Palestinian marches should be banned in the UK next week and that this ban should be “enforced by all means necessary”. He seems to be taking inspiration from the Tory MP Henry Smith, who has called for the military to be involved.
But the Palestine Solidarity Campaign says it has no intention of organising a demonstration near the Cenotaph anyway. Its director, Ben Jamal, says:
The attempts to frame the planned national demonstration on November 11, part of a cycle of weekly marches calling for a ceasefire, as disrespectful to Remembrance Day commemorations is at best misinformed and at worse an incitement to public disorder. We note with special concern comments by far-right commentators like Douglas Murray calling for people “to come out and stop these barbarians”.
There are no plans to march anywhere near Whitehall or the Cenotaph. We are choosing a route designed to avoid those areas, in consultation with the Metropolitan police. The march will also not begin until some significant time after the two minutes’ silence at 11 o’clock.
This is a march calling for a ceasefire in order to stop the current slaughter in Gaza. To highlight this democratic action taking place on November 11, well away from Whitehall, as disrespectful is dangerous and disingenuous politicking that defames many hundreds of thousands of people who want the current violence to stop.
A reader asks:
What do the pundits and election experts say, if anything, about the prospects for Labour should Starmer step down now? To me, it seems like the Labour leader could be a boot dredged up from a canal on a fishing line, and it would still trounce the Tories at the next GE. So, if Keir is forced out by a growing revolt over his stance on Israel-Palestine, would that really be as damaging to Labour as one might think?
The short answer is, almost nothing, because I don’t know anyone in the commentariat/journalist/political world who thinks there is any chance at all of Keir Starmer resigning or being forced out over the Gaza issue.
But that doesn’t stop this being an interesting question.
The answer, of course, is that it would depend on who replaced him. If there were a contest tomorrow, judging by their reception at conference (and the increasing pressure on Labour to stop being the only main party in British politics that has not had a woman as full-time leader), Rachel Reeves and Angela Rayner would be the candidates to beat.
Labour has done well under Starmer partly because he has persuaded the public that the party has changed a lot from the Corbyn years, and if any new leader were to reverse this, they might create an opportunity for the Tories. But Reeves would definitely maintain the Starmerite approach. Under Rayner, the party might sound a bit more leftish, but she has some intriguing blue Labourish instincts (some of her law and order views make Suella Braverman sound soft) and it is unlikely that the Tories would be able to argue Labour had reverted to 2019.
Starmer beats Rishi Sunak on who would be the best PM. I have not seen polling for Reeves, Rayner or any other senior Labour figure on this, but Sunak’s ratings are so poor that winning on this indicator would not be hard.
It is quite possible that Labour could end up being even more popular with a new leader. In 1994 Labour was already on course to win the next election under John Smith, and Tony Blair just turbocharged that process.
But it is probably more realistic to assume a new leader might make little overall difference. The Conservatives have been kiboshed by Partygate and Liz Truss, and the most important factor in determining the next election is that at some point last year a large chunk of the electorate seemed to give up on them – if not for good, at least until the next parliament.
The Scottish governmment has published the latest in a series of papers explaining the policies it might pursue after independence. Today’s covers immigration, and it says an indepedent Scotland would “devise a humane, dignified and principled migration system and comprehensively reject Westminster’s ‘hostile environment”.
The report says:
The proposals in this paper aim to deliver positive outcomes for our communities and public services and, crucially, for the people who want to live, work and raise their families in Scotland. As well as enriching Scotland culturally, people who have chosen to live and work here are helping to grow our economy – they help address skills shortages within key sectors and make an essential contribution to our population growth.
This government’s approach would also be rooted in equity for the Global South. We would learn the lessons of the Windrush scandal and ensure robust protection of migrants’ rights. This includes removing discriminatory barriers so that people from the Global South have equitable access to the Scottish migration system.
Shirley-Anne Somerville, the social justice secretary in the Scottish government, said in a statement:
Scotland’s population is set to fall, unlike other UK nations, under current constitutional arrangements. This means fewer people working, paying taxes and contributing to public services like the NHS. Yet Scotland is subject to the UK government’s hostile approach to immigration which is damaging our economy.
Control of our own migration policy would enable us to replace that approach with a system that has dignity, fairness and respect at its core, recognising above all that this is about individuals and their families.
Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, has issued a statement confirming that his wife’s parents have been able to leave Gaza. He says:
These last four weeks have been a living nightmare for our family, we are so thankful for all of the messages of comfort and prayers that we have received from across the world, and indeed from across the political spectrum in Scotland and the UK.
Although we feel a sense of deep personal relief, we are heartbroken at the continued suffering of the people of Gaza. We will continue to raise our voices to stop the killing and suffering of the innocent people of Gaza.
We reiterate our calls for all sides to agree to an immediate ceasefire, the opening of a humanitarian corridor so that significant amounts of aid, including fuel, can flow through to a population that have suffered collective punishment for far too long, and for all hostages to be released.
Rishi Sunak has issued a statement saying he has asked the Home Office and the police to ensure Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday events in London next weekend are not disprupted by pro-Palestinian protesters. (See 9.49am.)
Starmer says there is a huge opportunity for the north-east with green energy.
What the government is doing on net zero is a huge mistake, he says.
A few years ago he thought there was consensus on this, he says. But now Rishi Sunak has turned against the net zero agenda. He goes on:
It will be made a political football for the next election.
He says that is a “big mistake” because the transition to net zero offers great opportunities. He says in the US the Biden government has recognised this.
And that’s the end of the Q&A.
Q: (From the chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership) How will Labour ensure the voice of business is heard in developing economic policy?
Starmer says we have had devolution to mayors, but the full consequences of that have not been thought through.
He says he wants growth – the highest sustained growth in the G7.
He says he does not want the model of growth where it is driven by just one part of the country. Instead, he wants growth in every part of the economy.
Labour is going to have to be bold enough to push power, decision-making and money out to areas where decisions can be made.
Decisions about the north-east are best made in the north-east, he says.
He says the government’s levelling up programme involves someone in London handing out money.
He would devolve, he says. And there should be a partnership with business, he says. He says he would not get fixated on a particular model for how this should happen.