UK could be legally complicit in Gaza war crimes, senior Tory MP warns Rishi Sunak

Ex-foreign affairs committee chair Crispin Blunt says UK’s ‘unqualified support’ puts Britain in ‘legal peril’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 14 October 2023 17:35 BST
Hundreds of protesters gather outside London’s Israeli embassy

The British government could be complicit in war crimes in Gaza if it does not do more to “restrain” Israel, a senior Conservative MP has warned.

Crispin Blunt, a former chair of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, has written to Rishi Sunak warning the UK is in “legal peril” on account of his “apparent unqualified support to the policy of the government of Israel”.

The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians, which Mr Blunt co-chairs, has issued a notice of intention to prosecute UK officials and says there is “clear evidence that Israel has committed war crimes”.

It comes after Israel told 1.2 million people living in the northern part of the Gaza Strip to immediately leave their homes in preparation for a military operation.

Authorities in Gaza say 1,900 Palestinians, including 583 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes in the past week, with a full-scale ground invasion now anticipated.

Israel has also blocked the entry of goods into Gaza and cut off electricity to the densely populated territory.

Around 1,300 people were killed in Israel after Hamas militants last week breached a barrier erected around the Gaza Strip and returned with more than 100 hostages. Israel says it is defending itself and following international law.

Mr Blunt is the second prominent Tory MP to raise the alarm over the issue after Alicia Kearns, the current chair of the foreign affairs committee, said the UK should be “tough with our friends”.

“International law cannot be switched on and off and there are laws around proportionality,” she told the News Agents podcast, stressing that the country had a right to defend itself, but within international rules.

Mr Sunak has said the UK fully supports Israel – and on Thursday night announced he had sent RAF surveillance aircraft and Royal Navy vessels to the region.

Downing Street has called on Israel to “protect ordinary Palestinians”, but senior members of the government, including defence secretary Grant Shapps, have backed Israel’s order for Palestinians to vacate the territory.

The United Nations says the mass relocation of the population is impossible “without devastating humanitarian consequences”.

Speaking on Sky News on Saturday morning, Mr Blunt said: “If you know that a party is going to commit a war crime – and this forcible transfer of people is a precise breach of one of the statutes that governs international law and all states in this area – then you are making yourself complicit.”

“And as international law has developed in this area, the fact of being complicit makes you equally guilty to the party carrying out the crime.”

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt has warned that the UK is in ‘legal peril’ on account of its ‘apparent unqualified support to the policy of the government of Israel’
Conservative MP Crispin Blunt has warned that the UK is in ‘legal peril’ on account of its ‘apparent unqualified support to the policy of the government of Israel’ (PA Archive)

In his letter to Mr Sunak, Mr Blunt said the UK could prevent further legal action by issuing a public statement condemning Israeli breaches of international law, and urged the PM to “ask each government official that has encouraged war crimes in Gaza to rescind their statements in public”.

The letter also says the government should immediately call for a ceasefire, and an end to the siege of the territory to allow humanitarian access.

Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf said on Friday that Israel was “going too far” with retaliatory strikes on Gaza and that people who have “nothing to do with Hamas” are “paying an extraordinary price” for Hamas’s attacks.

“Nobody has said that Israel does not have the right to protect itself from terror. All of us have said that, myself included, but collective punishment cannot be justified,” he said

Labour leader Keir Starmer defended Israel’s right to cut off the water and electricity supply to Gaza, telling LBC radio: “I think that Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation, obviously everything should be done within international law, but I don’t want to step away from the core principles that Israel has the right to defend herself.”

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Israel's president Isaac Herzog said: “We are working, operating militarily in terms according to rules of international law, period. Unequivocally.

“It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true, this rhetoric about civilians [being] not aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true.

“They could have risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’état.

“But we are at war, we are defending our homes, we are protecting our homes, that’s the truth, and when a nation protects its home it fights, and we will fight until we break their backbone.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said on Saturday: “Israel has suffered a shockingly brutal terrorist attack and Hamas alone is responsible for this conflict.

“We support Israel’s right to defend itself and to take action against terrorism. Unlike Hamas, Israeli president Herzog has said their armed forces will operate in accordance with international law.

“Given that Hamas has embedded itself in the civilian population in Gaza it is important that Israel takes all possible measures to protect ordinary Palestinians and to facilitate humanitarian aid.”

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