THE leader of Burnley’s council has left the Labour Party just days after urging Keir Starmer to resign as leader over his stance on the Israel-Hamas war.

Afrasiab Anwar said it had been a “really difficult decision” to leave the party.

It comes as pressure continues to grow on Starmer over his refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza with a number of officials in Scotland having already resigned.

Anwar and 10 other councillors have, according to a statement, jointly decided to leave the party – describing their memberships as “untenable”.

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The local politicians said Starmer (below) had indicated he “does not value the voice of the grassroots of the party”, citing remarks he made following a speech on Friday.

The Labour leader who has come under internal pressure to demand a cessation of hostilities, told reporters that his focus was on stopping the suffering in Gaza, not on the “individual positions” of party members.

The National:

The Labour Party has backed the UK Government’s stance of calling for a pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian aid and medical treatments to reach Palestinians in Gaza.

But Anwar said the position was “nonsensical” and did not capture the strength of feeling in his Lancashire town, along with communities elsewhere in the UK, about the war.

Anwar last week issued a joint call, along with Asjad Mahmood – a Pendle Borough councillor, for Starmer to resign over his leadership on the issue.

Speaking to PA news agency on Sunday about his decision to quit the party, Anwar said: “We just can’t stand by watching and being part of a party that is not speaking out, or at the very least calling for a ceasefire.

“Instead of talking of peace all of our world leaders, including the leader of the Labour Party, are talking about humanitarian pauses. It is just nonsensical.

“I just don’t think the message is getting through in terms of how our communities, right across the board, are feeling about this.”

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The Burnley Council leader said the councillors had tried “everything we could by working within the party”.

In a statement shared with PA, the councillors said they had engaged with a host of senior Labour figures – including shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy and deputy leader Angela Rayner (below) – to express their concerns.

They said they had also written to Starmer, as well as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The National:

But, in a joint statement, the councillors said: “Regrettably, after exhausting every available option, we have arrived at the conclusion that the current party stance on Palestine does not align with the values we hold dear.

“Consequently we have collectively decided to resign from the Labour Party with immediate effect, feeling that our place within the party is untenable given its present position.

“We cannot remain in a party that is not doing enough while innocent people are being killed in Gaza and Israel.”

Before the resignations, the Labour group held 22 out of 45 seats on Burnley Council. It still remains the largest party after Sunday’s announcement.

The fighting in the Israel-Hamas war has continued into a fifth week.

The violence was ignited by the Palestinian militant group’s raids that killed 1400 people and saw about 240 people taken hostage on October 7.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said more than 9700 Palestinians have been killed in retaliatory strikes by Israel.

The mass resignations of councillors come as the Labour leader battles to maintain discipline in the party on Gaza.

Several senior frontbenchers have revolted against the leader's stance of only calling for a humanitarian “pause”, including Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (below). 

A Labour spokesman, responding to the latest resignations, said: “Labour fully understands calls for a ceasefire.

“Everybody wants to see an end to this cycle of violence and suffering, we need to see hostages released and aid getting to those most in need.

“But a ceasefire now will only freeze this conflict and would leave hostages in Gaza and Hamas with the infrastructure and capability to carry out the sort of attack we saw on October 7.

“International law must be followed at all times and innocent civilians must be protected. Labour is calling for humanitarian pauses in the fighting.

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“This is the best and most realistic way to address the humanitarian emergency in Gaza and is a position shared by our major allies, in the US and the EU.”

Earlier on Sunday, shadow defence secretary John Healey acknowledged that Starmer's remarks about the Israel-Hamas conflict had “caused hurt to many people”.

Meanwhile, Sarwar criticised the Labour leader for having “hurt” Muslim communities when he appeared to suggest in an interview with LBC that the Israeli government had the right to withhold water and power from citizens in Gaza.

Asked on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme if he accepted Sarwar’s criticism, Healey said: “I accept that it’s caused hurt to many people and Keir Starmer would do that as well.”