Saturday, May 18, 2024

UK says will not suspend weapons exports to Israel

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron has confirmed London will not suspend arms exports to Israel after the killing of seven aid workers in an airstrike on Gaza last week, as he insisted the UK would continue to act within international law.

The foreign secretary said that he had reviewed the most recent legal advice about the situation on the ground but this left the UK’s position on export licences “unchanged”.

But Lord Cameron said ministers had “grave concerns” about humanitarian access in Gaza as he urged Israel to turn its commitments on aid “into reality” at a joint press conference with his US counterpart, Antony Blinken.

Downing Street has come under mounting pressure from senior Tories to suspend weapons exports in light of the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and after the deaths of three Britons in the strike on aid group World Central Kitchen.

Cameron stated that continuing to allow arms exports put the UK in line with other “like-minded countries” and reiterated that the UK had a robust legal process for assessing those licences.

“We don’t publish legal advice, we don’t comment on legal advice but we act in a way that is consistent with it, we’re a government under the law and that’s as it should be.”

The former prime minister added the Israel-Hamas conflict was a “different situation” from when the UK published a summary of legal advice before taking military action in Libya, or more recently in the Red Sea.

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, said Cameron’s refusal to publish the legal advice “simply is not good enough”, as he accused him of “hiding from scrutiny”.

“It’s vital the UK is not complicit in any breach,” Lammy continued, adding, “If there is a clear risk that UK arms might be used in a serious breach of international humanitarian law, the government must suspend the sale of those arms.”

During his visit to Washington, which followed dinner with Donald Trump at the ex-president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Cameron told reporters: “I have now reviewed the most recent advice about the situation in Gaza and Israel’s conduct of their military campaign.

“The latest assessment leaves our position on export licences unchanged. This is consistent with the advice that I and other ministers have received and as ever we will keep the position under review.”

“Let me be clear, though, we continue to have grave concerns around the humanitarian access issue in Gaza, both for the period that was assessed and subsequently,” he continued, adding, “We’ve seen a welcome increase in trucks with perhaps as many as 400 going in yesterday, the highest since 7 October, and of course public commitments from Israel to flood Gaza with aid. These now need to be turned into reality.”

Cameron also called for the water in Gaza to be switched back on, the Ashdod port and a northern crossing point to be opened, and for aid to reach across Gaza.

The UK’s arms exports regime would prevent the supply of weapons to Israel if there was a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law. UK companies provide about 0.02% of Israel’s overall arms imports.

During six months of conflict triggered by the 7 October attack by Hamas in southern Israel, at least 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the health ministry, more than a third of them children.

Cameron refused to be drawn on the details of his discussion with Trump after making a surprise visit to the presumptive Republican presidential candidate’s Florida resort, saying only that it covered a “range of important geopolitical subjects”.

He said it was “entirely in line with precedent of government ministers meeting with opposition politicians in the run-up to elections”, adding: “I remember when I was prime minister meeting Mitt Romney when he was a candidate. I remember Gordon Brown meeting Barack Obama when he was a candidate.”

The visit formed part of his push to shore up US support for Ukraine, as he launches his latest appeal to Congress over a stalled multibillion-dollar package of aid for Kyiv.

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