UK urged to publish legal advice received on Israel’s conduct in Gaza

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UK urged to publish legal advice received on Israel’s conduct in Gaza

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns claims UK Government lawyers found Israel had breached international humanitarian law

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 12, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 12, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron is under pressure to publish the legal advice he has received on Israel’s actions in Gaza following claims UK Government lawyers believe it has broken humanitarian law.

Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns said she was convinced the Government had concluded that Israel was not demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law, but had refused to confirm that publicly.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy urged Lord Cameron and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to come clean about the advice they had been given.The Foreign Office said advice on Israel’s compliance with international law was kept under review, but it would remain confidential.

Israel has come under intense international scrutiny over its treatment of Palestinians during the war against Hamas following the October 7 atrocities.

Alicia Kearns

A leaked recording of Kearns disclosed that she believes the Government has received advice that Israel is flouting the law.

Answering questions at an “evening drinks reception” hosted by the West Hampstead and Fortune Green Conservatives in London on March 13, she said: “The Foreign Office has received official legal advice that Israel has broken international humanitarian law but the Government has not announced it.

“They have not said it, they haven’t stopped arms exports.

“They have done a few very small sanctions on Israeli settlers – and everyone internationally is agreed that settlers are illegal, that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing, and the ways in which they have continued and the money that’s been put in.”

Arms export licences cannot be granted if there is a clear risk the weapons could be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

In response to the leaked recording she told the Observer: “I remain convinced the Government has completed its updated assessment on whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law, and that it has concluded that Israel is not demonstrating this commitment, which is the legal determination it has to make.

“Transparency at this point is paramount, not least to uphold the international rules-based order.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We keep advice on Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law under review and ministers act in accordance with that advice, for example when considering export licences.

“The content of the Government’s advice is confidential.” 

Lammy said: “Last week I asked the Government whether or not the Foreign Secretary had received legal advice saying that there is a clear risk that items licensed by the UK might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

“I didn’t get a clear answer. This raises serious questions about whether the Government is complying with its own law.

“David Cameron and Rishi Sunak must now (come) clean and publish the legal advice they have received.”

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said: “The UK Government is on the wrong side of history.“Their failure to call for an immediate ceasefire, and their refusal to end arm sales to Israel, will have future generations looking back in horror.

“The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary owe it to the public and to the high offices they currently hold to be honest about whether they have received advice that Israel has breached international humanitarian law.“

Pic: Grainge Photography

If reports are to be believed, and the UK Government has continued to supply arms and intelligence to Israel whilst knowing they were in breach of international humanitarian law, then the position of both would be untenable.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has repeatedly said that Israel, as the “occupying power” in Gaza, has responsibilities under humanitarian law, including ensuring aid is supplied to civilians.He has stressed that responsibility has “consequences”, including when the UK assesses whether Israel is compliant with international humanitarian law.

When he appeared in front of Kearns’ committee in January, Lord Cameron was repeatedly questioned about the legal advice he has received.

“I cannot recall every single bit of paper that has been put in front of me,” he told Kearns.

“I look at everything. Of course, there are a lot of things that have happened where you think surely that was something that shouldn’t have happened.” 

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