This afternoon, Peterborough MP Paul Bristow was sacked from his role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) after he called for a ceasefire in Gaza. Bristow’s call for a “permanent” end to hostilities between Israel and Hamas led to his swift dismissal. He is the first frontbencher on either side of the Commons to be dismissed for making this call.
In a two-page letter addressed to Rishi Sunak on Thursday – now deleted from his website – Bristow urged for a permanent ceasefire as violence escalated in the region following the 7 October massacre by Hamas in Israel. While the Prime Minister has advocated humanitarian pauses to allow aid into Gaza, he stopped short of endorsing a complete ceasefire.
Bristow’s sacking explained
A spokesperson for 10 Downing Street explained: “Paul Bristow has been asked to leave his post in government following comments that were not consistent with the principles of collective responsibility.” This principle obliges all members of the government to publicly support government policies, even when they personally disagree with them. Bristow’s comments were deemed inconsistent with this principle, leading to his removal from his government role.
In his letter to Sunak, Bristow voiced concerns about the loss of life and the displacement of over a million people due to the ongoing conflict, asserting, “It is difficult to understand how this makes Israel more secure or indeed makes anything better.” Bristow also emphasised that “ordinary Palestinians are not Hamas” and expressed his doubts about the effectiveness of the current approach, asking: “I would be grateful for your comments on the actions our Government is taking to ensure that the people in Gaza do not face collective punishment for the crimes of Hamas.”
No sackings in the shadow cabinet
This decision by Sunak stands in sharp contrast to the approach of Labour Leader, Keir Starmer who backs the government’s position. Other than taking action against one backbench MP over ‘deeply offensive’ comments at a demonstration on Saturday, he has refrained from censuring members of the shadow cabinet, who have also called for a ceasefire. This discrepancy underscores the challenges of managing diverse opinions within political parties, especially on contentious issues like the Israel–Gaza conflict.
In the aftermath of his dismissal, Bristow has voiced his understanding of the Prime Minister’s decision and expressed his intention to continue advocating for his constituents’ concerns from the backbenches. He told The Sun: “It was absolutely the right decision for the PM to fire me – I obviously regret being sacked – but I have many thousands of constituents who feel very strongly about this issue and feel I can better represent their views from the backbenches than the government payroll.”
Peterborough’s demographics and Bristow’s influence
Bristow’s Peterborough constituency is a classic swing seat. It is home to a substantial Muslim community, with a population of 12.2% – almost twice the national average. This demographic composition undoubtedly influenced Bristow’s stance on the matter. He is also the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, an organisation that was set up to address the concerns of Muslim communities and recognise their contributions to society.
Bristow is no stranger to expressing his critical views regarding Israel. In July during a Commons debate on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, he said a lasting peace deal was a long way off. He added, “In 2023, dozens of Palestinian children have been killed in Israeli military operations. We should never become immune to the tragedy of those deaths.”
UN accusations and the moral implications of inaction
The government’s response by David Rutley included the vow, “The UK will continue to oppose violations and abuse of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the Government of Israel.”
Since then, the government’s stance has apparently changed, given that the UN has accused the Israeli government of an “unlawful siege of the Gaza Strip” and UN independent experts have condemned Israel’s “indiscriminate military attacks against civilians”, which is “absolutely prohibited under international law and amounts to a war crime.”
Up to now, Sunak’s response to calls in the Commons for a ceasefire has been that “Israel has the right to defend itself.” It remains to be seen how the government responds to questions about the morality of failing to call for a ceasefire, despite mounting evidence of violations and abuse of international human rights and humanitarian laws by the Government of Israel. Bristow is the first to make the call, but he probably won’t be the last.
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