Britain’s main opposition Labour Party has suffered a significant rebellion in Parliament over its policy on Gaza, in a sign of the hardening of opinion in Western Europe against Israel’s military action in the enclave.
Defying their leader, Keir Starmer, 56 Labour lawmakers — more than a quarter of the party’s total — voted late Wednesday in favor of a motion calling for an immediate cease-fire, going beyond their party’s official position of working to achieve longer humanitarian pauses in the conflict.
Although none of Mr. Starmer’s top team rebelled, eight lawmakers who held less senior leadership positions did, and either resigned or were fired from those posts.
The vote has no practical impact but was closely watched, because Labour is well ahead in opinion polls, putting it in a strong position to win a general election that is expected next fall.
The rebellion illustrates growing concerns in Western Europe over the number of civilians killed and wounded in Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip, and the rising pressure on lawmakers over the issue from those they represent. A series of protest marches in Britain have demanded a cease-fire in recent weeks, and one in London last Saturday drew an estimated 300,000 people.
The best known of the Labour rebels, Jess Phillips, who resigned from her position speaking for the party on domestic-violence issues, said she was voting with “my constituents, my head and my heart, which has felt as if it were breaking over the last four weeks.” She added that she could 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.”
Middle East policy is politically sensitive within the Labour Party, whose leadership has stuck close to the British and United States government positions on Gaza recently and has not supported calls for a cease-fire. Mr. Starmer expressed firm support for Israel in the aftermath of the bloody incursions into Israeli territory by Hamas fighters in October.
The rebellion in Parliament is the first significant setback in months for Mr. Starmer. Late Wednesday, he said he regretted that some of his colleagues had felt the need to support the motion calling for a cease-fire, which was proposed by the Scottish National Party.
But while the vote represents a challenge to Mr. Starmer’s authority and displayed internal divisions, the Labour leader appears to have calculated that he would rather risk a rebellion than soften his position.