Questions unanswered about arms exports to Israel, Commons panel chairwoman says

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Questions unanswered about arms exports to Israel, Commons panel chairwoman says

Ministers have faced pressure to halt arms export licences to Israel in recent weeks as the conflict in Gaza continues.

Alicia Kearns
Alicia Kearns

Questions remain unanswered about the UK supplying arms to Israel amid concerns about its compliance with international law, Alicia Kearns has said.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has written to the Conservative chairwoman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, setting out the Government’s reasoning behind continuing exports.

Even where there are concerns about selling weapons to any country, the Government may not decide to halt exports as there is no “clear risk” of it violating international humanitarian law (IHL), Lord Cameron suggested in his letter.

Ms Kearns said the letter provided clarity about the situation, but “also raises some questions”.

Ministers have faced pressure to halt arms export licences to Israel in recent weeks as the conflict in Gaza continues.

A broad swathe of MPs have called for the UK to consider its continued arms exports over concerns that Israel could be in breach of international humanitarian law.

UK companies provide an estimated 0.02% of Israel’s overall arms imports, deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell has said.

Ms Kearns previously claimed in a leaked recording that she was convinced ministers had received advice that Israel is flouting the law, but have refused to confirm this.

The deaths of three British aid workers on April 1 in an Israel Defence Forces’ strike was a flashpoint in the debate, but the Government has continued to say there has been no change in its position.

While Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch is responsible for issuing, suspending or revoking arms export licences, her decision is informed by advice from Lord Cameron.

In a letter to Ms Kearns, the Foreign Secretary said his advice is drawn from “open-source evidence, intelligence, accounts of diplomatic and ministerial engagements and correspondence with the relevant country”.

His assessments as a result of this work are not “legal” judgments, but are informed by legal advice.

In the letter, Lord Cameron added: “Where there might be concerns, isolated incidents or processes that could be improved, ministers might still judge that there is not a clear risk that the export of relevant goods to that country might be used to commit to facilitate a serious violation of IHL.

“This would depend on whether the country has a genuine intent, capacity and commitment more broadly to comply with IHL.”

The Foreign Secretary added that export licences have been kept under review since the conflict in Gaza began in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack, but said the “UK position on export licences remains unchanged”.

Ms Kearns said: “This letter provides clarity on the processes behind the UK’s decision-making on arms export licences, but it also raises some questions.

“Despite the Foreign Secretary’s words to the contrary, there isn’t consensus between likeminded countries. Longstanding partners and allies, such as Canada and Italy, have announced a suspension of arms exports to Israel.

“The Foreign Secretary’s letter indicates that intent and commitment to complying with international humanitarian law are heavily weighted when considering whether a serious breach has occurred.

“In the House, ministers have frequently been asked whether a commitment to IHL is being demonstrated, no clear answer has been received.”

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