A ban on the sale of British arms to Israel could soon be imposed by the Government, with ministers understood to be edging closer to a deal on the issue.
Nick Clegg suggested that the current truce between Israel and Hamas had given the Coalition the time it needed to reach an agreement on halting the UK’s £42m of arms export licences, adding that a “tougher approach” would soon be announced.
“We now have a truce, we now have a ceasefire. This is why we are discussing this at length within Government right now,” he said, speaking on his weekly LBC radio phone-in. “I think it is crystal clear that it would be unacceptable to the British people and wholly wrong for us to do anything other than immediately suspend any existing licences if that ceasefire was to come to an end and violence was to break out again.
“This is something we are discussing in Government right now and I hope we can make an announcement, I believe we will be able to issue a sort of tougher approach to all of this, which can give the British public confidence that we stick to the rules by which these licences are issued.”
The negotiations began in the wake of the surprise resignation of Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi, who left the Government in protest at David Cameron’s failure to take a harder line against Israel. The conflict has already claimed the lives of more than 1,800 mainly civilian Palestinians.
Mr Clegg told The Independent yesterday that the Conservatives held a “less forthright” position on Israel than his own party. But his comments were criticised by the former Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, who said the sale of any British arms to Israel had to be signed off by Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary.
“I think to be blunt that they are trying to pretend that Liberal Democrats don’t sign off arms exports to Israel which they have been doing,” he told the BBC. “Vince Cable has been doing that for the past few years because it is a joint decision he takes with the Foreign Secretary. I hope he will have assured himself that any exports to Israel are for their external protection and security.”