27 May 2024

Starmer on what he would say to Netanyahu – after Rafah attack

Senior Political Correspondent

We asked the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer what he would say to the Israeli prime minister.

Sir Keir, who was giving his first major speech of the election campaign, said the offensive in Rafah must stop, describing the scenes as “horrifying”.

Rishi Sunak defended his plan to introduce a form of national service, insisting it was the best way to “deliver a secure future” for the country.


Sir Keir Starmer: I think that we need a ceasefire in place straight away. That requires international consensus. I think if you reflect on what happened in Rafah, that is horrific evidence of exactly why the Rafah offensive should not go ahead, exactly why all countries should call on Israel for that ceasefire.

Paul McNamara: But all countries have already been calling for that ceasefire, it’s not happening.

Sir Keir Starmer: Also recognising that we need the space to get the hostages out and humanitarian aid desperately in. Now you say, well, it hasn’t happened yet. That’s true. But I don’t think that’s a good enough reason not to ramp up the efforts for a ceasefire.

Paul McNamara: What does ramping up mean? Are there going to be consequences under a Keir Starmer government?

Sir Keir Starmer: We have to work with international allies to put pressure on Israel. We have to be clear and speak with one voice.

Paul McNamara: A lot of people are going to listen to this and say, okay, but I didn’t hear anything really different from you from what they’re hearing from Rishi Sunak.

Sir Keir Starmer: On some issues, I think there is a degree of consensus about how we go forward. But we do have to work with our international allies.

Paul McNamara: The International Criminal Court has said they want an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Do you agree?

‘I believe in international law’

Sir Keir Starmer: I think the prosecutor has applied to the court and the court has yet to make a decision. So the court will have to make that decision in due course. I respect their independence. I don’t think there’s any equivalence between Hamas and Israel. Hamas is a terrorist organisation. Israel has the right to self-defence. But I believe in international law, and I support the independence of both the prosecutor and the court, which will be called upon to make a decision in due course.

Paul McNamara: I understand that, but President Biden has called the call for an arrest warrant outrageous. Rishi Sunak said it’s deeply unhelpful. What’s your take on it?

Sir Keir Starmer: I think that the court should be able to come to its decision in due course. I support the court and I support international law. The court will have to come to its decision.

Paul McNamara: But as prime minister, lots of people were looking to you for guidance. You’re a human rights lawyer. You spent your career studying this sort of stuff. You must have a gut instinct. What would your message be?

Sir Keir Starmer: My gut instinct is for this court, as with all courts, which is we have independent courts for a reason outside of politics so that they can make independent decisions. That is very important, the rule of law. I’ve believed in that all my life. I fought for it around the globe. It matters internationally. In due course, this court will have to make a decision in relation to these warrants.

Paul McNamara: And if we get to the point where warrants are issued, what then, will you support them because you support the ICC?

Sir Keir Starmer: Let’s get to that point, let’s see what the decision is of the court, what warrants they grant on what basis, but we haven’t got to that point yet.

Paul McNamara: But if you’re saying that you respect the ICC and their independence and what they come up with, surely then the next logical argument is if they say we want a warrant, you would back that then?

‘I’m not going to get into hypotheticals’

Sir Keir Starmer: I want to see the decision they make. I want to see what warrants they actually issue, what they don’t. I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, what ifs down the road. But on the basic question, do I support international law? Yes I do.

Paul McNamara: Closer to home, Rishi Sunak has said he wants a national service introduced. It’s a great idea, isn’t it? Get people working, give them some work experience, bit of national pride?

Sir Keir Starmer: It’s a desperate idea that they put on the table, one desperate idea after the next. It’s not thought through. Only a few days ago, they were giving answers in parliament saying it was a bad idea because it would take resources away from our military, from our armed services. It’s going apparently to be paid for by taking money away from levelling up and taking away from money we would use on the NHS. So it’s a choice going into the election. With Labour, it’s levelling up and the NHS. With the Tories, it’s desperate gimmicks.

Paul McNamara: I appreciate it’s uncosted. That’s your arguments then. But in principle are you in favour of national service?

Sir Keir Starmer: A lot of teenagers are doing a lot of volunteering. I’m not against that. I am against ill-thought through, last-minute, ditch ideas.