Outrage as Shapps and Dowden laugh during Sunak’s answers on Hamas attack ‘pogrom’

Calls for apology as behaviour of cabinet ministers condemned as ‘completely unacceptable’

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 17 October 2023 10:25 BST
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Grant Shapps and Oliver Dowden appear to laugh during Sunak's Israel and Gaza statement

Senior cabinet ministers Grant Shapps and Oliver Dowden have faced a backlash after they were spotted laughing in the Commons as Rishi Sunak addressed Hamas’s “pogrom” in Israel.

The defence secretary and deputy prime minister appeared to share a joke as they chatted while Mr Sunak was answering questions on the terrorist attack which saw 1,400 Israelis killed.

Mr Shapps and Mr Dowden were then seen smiling and giggling – just as the PM said he wanted to work for a “better future for the Israeli and Palestinian people” in the midst of the “tragedy”.

Many on social media condemned their behaviour as “disrespectful” and “disgraceful” – calling on the senior Tory ministers to say sorry.

Best for Britain, the internationalist campaign group, said it was “completely unacceptable” and called on the PM to demand an apology from Mr Shapps and Mr Dowden.

Tom Brufatto, policy director for the group said: “The sight of two of this government’s most senior representatives smirking like schoolboys during this most serious debate was completely unacceptable. Sunak should show leadership and demand they apologise.”

The writer and political commentator Gerry Hassan said the fact that ministers had “giggled together” showed “Tory statecraft as ministers act like children”.

“Sunak gives a sincere statement on the Israel-Hamas crisis. Dowden and Shapps chuckle away like schoolboys behind him,” said Owen Williams – arguing that it showed “an unserious government”.

Tory MP Michael Fabricant joined the criticism, saying on Twitter / X that it was “very silly of them” to laugh during the debate.

The Independent has asked Mr Dowden and Mr Shapps for comment – but there was no response to the criticism and calls for an apology.

The amusement from the ministers came as Mr Sunak responded to a question from former Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi, who said “Gaza and the world will need Israel to show her best self after this war”.

The PM thanked him for the “powerful statement” and said: “We can’t lose sight of the better future that we strive for, and indeed my conversations with leaders have already been thinking about that.

“It’s something I raised with the prime minister of Israel as well. We all want that better future for the Israeli and Palestinian people, and hopefully, out of this tragedy, we will find a way to move closer toward it.”

Mr Sunak called the “barbaric” attacks by Hamas as a “pogrom”, as he told the Commons that at least six British citizens have been killed in Israel while another 10 are missing.

The PM said Britain stands with Israel when he repeated his support for the country’s right to defend itself as it prepares for to “go after Hamas [and] take back hostages” with a ground invasion of Gaza.

The Tory leader also called for “every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians” – arguing that Israel’s military push to destroy Hamas “must be done in line with international humanitarian law”.

Mr Sunak announced an extra £10m in UK aid for the Palestinian people, and called on Israel and Egypt to open up the Rafah border crossing to allow urgently needed humanitarian supplies.

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