David Cameron: I have looked at legal advice and arms exports to Israel will continue

Foreign secretary also warned UK and US may have to look for ‘plan B’ for Hamas conflict if current strategy does not work

Kate Devlin
Politics and Whitehall Editor
Wednesday 10 April 2024 08:19 BST
Sunak claims he told Netanyahu the situation in Gaza is 'intolerable'

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The UK will not suspend arms exports to Israel despite “grave concerns” about humanitarian access in Gaza, David Cameron has said.

The foreign secretary said he had reviewed the latest legal advice to ministers on whether Israel is breaking humanitarian law in its war on Hamas.

The “ultimate judgement” was that the export licences “will continue” following the killing of seven aid workers in an air strike last week.

Rishi Sunak has been under mounting pressure, including from within his own party, to immediately suspend the sale of arms amid a growing chorus of opposition to the number of civilians killed.

Tory grandees, hundreds of lawyers, dozens of MPs and peers from across the political spectrum, as well as top military commanders, have all called for a halt in recent days.

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

He added the government would not publish or comment on legal advice, but would “act in a way that is consistent with it”.

He also rejected calls to publish the advice, saying it was an “important principle” that it was not made public.

But, he added, the UK continued to have “grave concerns” about humanitarian access to Gaza, saying Israeli promises to “flood Gaza with aid ... now need to be turned into reality”.

He also warned the UK and US may need to start looking at a “plan B” for the Israel-Hamas conflict if the current strategy does not work and there is an attack on Rafah.

Lord Cameron said the UK would not be suspending arms exports to Israel
Lord Cameron said the UK would not be suspending arms exports to Israel (PA)

He told reporters at a press conference in Washington DC: “We have a very clear plan A for how we bring this conflict to an end.

“We have a temporary pause, we turn that into a sustainable ceasefire, we see Hamas leaders removed from Gaza, we see the terrorist infrastructure taken down. That is the way to have a political process that brings the war to an end.

“But we have to be aware if that doesn't work, we have to think about what is plan B, what can humanitarian and other organisations do to make sure that if there is a conflict in Rafah that people can achieve safety, they can get food, they can get water, they can get medicine, and people are kept safe.

“I think that’s something we are going to have to be looking at and we were talking about today.”

The UK has banned exports before.

Margaret Thatcher’s government suspended arms exports following Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, while Tony Blair’s government blocked sales of some military equipment in 2002.

Ministers first faced calls to publish the legal advice it received on the war in Gaza last month following claims it had been warned Israel had breached humanitarian law.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said Lord Cameron and Rishi Sunak should “come clean” on what they have been told after a leaked recording of a senior Tory MP, who claimed ministers were concealing the advice.

Alicia Kearns, the chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said she was convinced ministers had concluded Israel was not demonstrating a commitment to international law.

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