Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer has not explicitly said Israel has broken international law but has stressed it must be followed. UK PARLIAMENT via AFP / JESSICA TAYLOR

During Prime Minister Questions (PMQs) today, Sir Keir Starmer mocked Rishi Sunak over the Conservatives' two by-election defeats last week.

Labour took both Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire from the Conservatives after Thursday's vote, overturning huge majorities in a double blow for the government.

In Tamworth, there was a 23.9 per cent swing from Conservative to Labour – the second highest in post-war by-election history.

No government has previously lost so safe a seat – the Conservatives had a 42 per cent majority in 2019 – to the principal opposition party in a by-election contest.

The centre-left opposition party are enjoying double-digit leads in most opinion polls.

Following these seismic victories, the Labour leader demanded a general election in the Commons, saying Mr Sunak was "oblivious" to the struggles being felt by working people.

The British people are "rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it" added Starmer, "while being abandoned by the government".

He said the Conservative Tamworth candidate's comments summed up how Tories are treating the public.

Andrew Cooper, who was defeated in the by-election on Thursday, shared a photo of a flowchart on social media in 2020 which indicated people should only seek help if they were employed and gave up their TV and mobile phone contracts.

But the prime minister refused to condemn Cooper's comments at PMQs, saying he was proud of the government's record on supporting families during the cost of living crisis.

Sunak insisted it was his party "making the right long-term decisions to change this country for the better".

But, on his 1 year anniversary as Prime Minister, he admitted that there "was still work to be done".

Downing Street also released a slickly produced video to mark the occasion, indicating that Sunak is in no hurry to call a general election.

The Prime Minister promised at the start of the year that he would "halve inflation"; it would have to fall to about 5.3 per cent in December to meet that target.

In March, he unveiled a budget aimed at tackling a cost-of-living crisis - which sparked strikes and protests as many wages failed to keep pace.

The past year, soaring prices have caused a cost-of-living crisis to run rampant across the UK, with rising food and energy bills contributing to record-breaking inflation levels.

The dire situation has enabled the opposition party to run clear in the polls, but despite recent by-election victories suggesting Labour is gaining momentum ahead of a potential election, Starmer has come under fire this week over his party's stance on the Israel-Gaza war.

Sir Keir has faced criticism since appearing to say Israel had the "right" to cut off water and energy to Gaza.

He later said he meant only that the country had a right to self-defence.

Since then, at least 19 Labour councillors have quit the party over the issue, including in Cambridge, Nottinghamshire and Gloucester, while some MPs have also been critical about the position the leadership has taken.

In Oxford, Labour lost its majority on the council, after eight councillors resigned from the party.

On Wednesday, a letter signed by more than 150 Muslim Labour councillors representing areas including Birmingham, Leicester and Glasgow, called on the party's leadership to back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to protect civilians and allow access to humanitarian aid.

More than 30 Labour MPs, as well as former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who now sits as an independent, have also backed calls for a ceasefire.

However, last week Sir Keir refused to support the move, instead saying Israel had the right to defend itself.

Starmer met with Muslim leaders in Wales in an attempt to ease tensions, but has been accused of having "gravely misrepresented" the meeting with Muslim leaders in Wales, who were seemingly unaware of his previous comments on the Israel-Gaza situation.

The opposition leader will meet with Muslim MPs in his party later today, for showdown talks amid the worsening backlash over his stance.

Sunak was also pressed on his government's attitude towards the conflict at PMQS today.

Mhairi Black, the SNP's deputy leader in the Commons, said Britain has a "human responsibility" to all civilians in Gaza but particularly to UK nationals who, she said, are in hospitals in the Gaza Strip with no food, no water, no medicine and "no way out".

"How much worse does the situation have to get before he will join us in calls for a humanitarian ceasefire?" she asked Sunak.

But the Prime Minister continues to reject calls for a longer ceasefire, with Downing Street arguing the move would "only serve to benefit Hamas".

Sunak said "specific pauses" are necessary for humanitarian purposes as Israel pummels the small strip of land, which is home to more than two million Palestinians.

Britain dispatched an RAF C-17 aircraft to Egypt from Brize Norton today, to deliver aid to Palestinian civilians.

The Egyptian Red Crescent was tasked with distributing the cargo of 76,800 wound care packs, 1,350 water filters and 2,560 solar lights.

The Prime Minister has increased aid spending for civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – Gaza and the West Bank – by £30 million to take the total this year to £57 million.