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Imran Hussain has become the first Labour frontbencher to quit over the issue of Sir Keir Starmer’s approach to the situation in Gaza, increasing the pressure on Britain’s leader of the opposition.
Hussain, who was shadow minister for employment rights, warned of a growing “humanitarian catastrophe” and said he wanted to be free “to be able to strongly advocate for a ceasefire, as called for by the UN General Secretary” in the Gaza Strip.
Starmer has been criticised by several shadow ministers, party whips and regional mayors over his refusal to call for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
The Labour leader has argued that a ceasefire would leave Hamas with the military capability to repeat its attacks from a month ago against Israeli civilians. He has instead backed calls for a temporary “humanitarian pause” in line with the UK and US and governments and the European Union.
In his resignation letter, Hussain said he believed that only a ceasefire could “end the bloodshed” and that his position on Gaza “differs substantially” from his party leader, making it impossible to continue in a shadow ministerial post.
He also said he had been “deeply troubled” by Starmer’s comments on LBC radio that appeared to endorse the Israeli government cutting off power and water to the enclave.
Hussain was elected in Bradford East in 2015, winning the seat back from the Liberal Democrats.
Amid growing tensions within Labour, and multiple resignations by Muslim local councillors, Starmer had hoped that by letting frontbenchers take a different position on the issue he could avoid resignations by shadow ministers. The departure of Hussain will raise fears in the leader’s team about more shadow ministers quitting the front benches.
MPs who have raised concerns about his position include Shabana Mahmood, shadow justice secretary, who wrote to her constituents saying that Starmer’s remarks on radio had caused “deep distress”.
Eighteen Labour frontbenchers have now called for a ceasefire, albeit none from the shadow cabinet.