Sir Keir Starmer said he wanted Labour to be “as united as we can” following the loss of 10 shadow ministers and parliamentary aides in a major rebellion over his stance on the war in Gaza.
Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence, was among the frontbenchers who either quit or were sacked so they could back a ceasefire in a Commons vote.
A total of 56 Labour MPs defied their party leader’s position of advocating for pauses in fighting so they could support a cessation.
But Sir Keir claimed he was more focused on the plight of people in Gaza than managing the splits within Labour.
“Of course, I want us to move forward as united as we can as a party, but you wouldn’t expect me to stand here today and say my concern is the Labour Party management rather than the hostages and the innocent civilians and children that are dying in Gaza,” he told ITV News.
“My focus and attention is there, and that’s where it is and where it will always be.”
The Labour MPs split from Sir Keir’s stance in order to back an SNP amendment in the King’s Speech debate, which was ultimately defeated.
Amid the fallout on Thursday morning, shadow defence secretary John Healey insisted there is a “deeper unity” in the Labour Party than the rebellion indicated.
He told BBC Breakfast he understands why backbenchers wanted to “respond to their constituents and call for an immediate ceasefire”.
But he insisted the “vast majority” back “the most practical step” of calling for humanitarian pauses to get aid into Gaza and the Israeli hostages out.
“On the frontbenches, a small number had to resign while the vast majority backed humanitarian pauses – the best way in these circumstances now trying to relieve the suffering – but the deeper unity of the Labour Party was clear last month,” he said.
“At the Labour Party conference you saw us totally unified and determined in solidarity with Ukraine, behind a plan to help people with the cost of living, and in getting rid of an infighting, failing 13 years of Conservative Government.”
Mr Healey argued that the frontbenchers who broke ranks to call for a ceasefire still want to see Sir Keir become prime minister.
“I know they all wrestled with this difficult decision and I know they all have said that they 100% want Keir Starmer in Downing Street and will work together to secure a Labour government,” he told Times Radio.
“This is a difficult issue that we faced last night but Keir Starmer was right, when it comes to a parliamentary vote, to be firm, to require collective responsibility and discipline.”
The other shadow ministers who are now backbenchers are Yasmin Qureshi, Afzal Khan, Paula Barker, Rachel Hopkins, Sarah Owen, Naz Shah and Andy Slaughter.
Parliamentary private secretaries Dan Carden and Mary Foy, who had been working with deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, joined them in leaving their positions.
MPs voted 293 to 125, a majority of 168, to reject the SNP’s amendment calling for “all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza.
But 56 Labour MPs backed the position, rejecting their party leader’s stance and defying a three-line whip.
Mrs Phillips, a prominent frontbencher, said it was with a “heavy heart” that she was quitting.
“I have tried to do everything that I could to make it so that this was not the outcome, but it is with a heavy heart that I will be leaving my post in the shadow Home Office team.
“On this occasion, I must vote with my constituents, my head, and my heart, which has felt as if it were breaking over the last four weeks with the horror of the situation in Israel and Palestine,” she said in a letter to her party leader.