UK should ‘double down’ on its relationship with Israel, says Tory MP

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UK should ‘double down’ on its relationship with Israel, says Tory MP

Conservative MP Bob Seely, who sits on the Foreign Affairs committee, also called demands to stop arms sales to Israel ‘shallow gesture politics’

Israel's security cabinet at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv
Israel's security cabinet at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv

Calls to halt arms sales to Israel in the aftermath of the death of three British aid workers have been called “shallow gesture politics” by a Tory MP.

Conservative MP Bob Seely, who sits on the Foreign Affairs committee, also said the UK should “double down” on its relationship with Israel.

The Government has faced increasing calls to halt arms sales to Israel after three British aid workers were killed in an attack by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Seven workers from the World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed in Gaza on Monday evening, with Britons John Chapman, 57; James “Jim” Henderson, 33; and James Kirby, 47; among those who died in the attack.

WCK founder Jose Andres claimed the Israeli military knew of his aid workers’ movements and targeted them “systematically, car by car”.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden issued a stark warning to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that future US support for Israel’s Gaza war depends on the swift implementation of new steps to protect civilians and aid workers.

Mr Netanyahu’s office has said “immediate steps” have been approved by the security cabinet to help aid reach Gaza, including the temporary opening of the Erez crossing at the northern end of the territory and allowing the use of the Israeli port of Ashdod for aid shipments.

US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the nation “welcomes” Israel’s decision and called on the steps to be “fully and rapidly implemented”.

“As the President said today on the call, US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these and other steps, including steps to protect innocent civilians and the safety of aid workers,” she said.

Aid from Jordan through another land journey will also be allowed to increase.

A letter calling for the UK to suspend arms sales to Israel has been signed by more than 600 lawyers, including former Supreme Court justices.

The Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, told the Daily Mail newspaper that Israel would be “held to account” for the attack on aid workers and said he and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were “entirely on the same page” on the war in Gaza.

But Tory members appear divided on the issue of arms sales, as Suella Braverman argued that Israel is “absolutely not” in breach of international humanitarian law, while party colleague Sir Alan Duncan said Ms Braverman should have the whip withdrawn for her “extreme” views.

Isle of Wight MP Mr Seely said those calling on the Government to end arms sales were engaging in “shallow gesture politics”.

He told BBC Newsnight: “The reality is that we supply 0.02% of Israel’s arms imports, which is a meaninglessly small figure, and actually by blocking it, effectively, this is shallow gesture politics and nothing but.

“And it’s symptomatic of the way that gesture politics is driving out rigorous thought from public debate. So, let’s have a rigorous public debate, let’s talk about the issues, but please, let’s just drop the gesture politics because it’s pretty pointless.”

Mr Seely also called for the UK to “double down” on its relationship with Israel.

“If you want to have a strategy, and if you want to have influence over people, you have to stay close to them. So actually, we have to double down on our relationship with Israel, but also Arab states that are involved in the same way.”

The Government is also under pressure to publish legal advice after civil servants within the Department of Business and Trade involved with arms exports have raised concerns over their own degree of legal liability if Israel is found to be violating international humanitarian law.

Members of the PCS union have threatened legal action to prevent their members from being forced to carry out unlawful acts.

Mr Seely said: “Governments don’t publish legal advice and I suspect that’s going to be the same in future for any government and it’s certainly the case now.”

Mentioning other countries the Government has faced pressure in the past to sever ties with, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Mr Seely said it was in the “national interest” to maintain relationships.

He said: “We should have substance to our principles, but we also need to tread carefully when it comes to military and intelligence relationships, because we spend a lot of time developing these relationships and they are significantly in our national interest and we have to think a little bit strategically.”
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