Keir Starmer has argued that it is “extremely unwise” for politicians to make instant judgements on whether Israel is breaking international law in its ongoing conflict with Hamas, declaring that it “will have to be adjudicated in due course”.
Addressing the international affairs think tank Chatham House this morning, the Labour leader reiterated his party’s position on the need for “humanitarian pauses” in the conflict, describing it as the “only credible approach” of achieving the “urgent alleviation of Palestinian suffering”.
In a speech designed to regain control of the agenda amid party tensions, Starmer told attendees that he understood why some people were calling for a ceasefire but added: “I do not believe that is the correct position now.” He argued that a ceasefire now “would leave Hamas with the infrastructure and the capability to carry out the sort of attack we saw on October the 7th“.
Several Labour frontbenchers have called for a ceasefire in the conflict including Afzal Khan, Sarah Owen and Naz Shah, while almost 40 Labour MPs have backed an early day motion backing calls for the government to “urgently press all parties to agree to an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities”.
Asked in a Q&A following his speech whether he thinks Israel is acting within international law, Starmer said: “It has to act in accordance with international law. This is not an optional extra, a nice to have. It has to be in accordance with international law.”
“That is a point that we have repeatedly pressed on Israel and other countries have pressed on Israel. It has to act in accordance with the law,” the Labour leader added.
Starmer continued: “As to whether each and every act is in accordance with the law, well that will have to be adjudicated in due course. I think it’s unwise for politicians to stand on stages like this or to sit in television studios and pronounce day by day which acts may or may not be in accordance with international law.
“I think it’s not the role of politicians. I don’t think it’s wise to do it. I come with the benefit of a lawyer of having litigated about issues like this in the past. And in my experience, it’d often take weeks or months to assimilate the evidence and to then work out whether there may or may not have been a breach of international law.”
He added: “I think the call for politicians to look at half a picture on the screen without the full information and form an instant judgement as to whether it’s this side of the line or the other side of the line is extremely unwise. I’m not going to get involved with that kind of exercise.”