MPs and peers sign letter urging UK government to ban arms sales to Israel

Patrick Wintour

Parliamentary pressure is building on the UK government to ban arms sales to Israel, amid signs that Israel intends to ignore the UN security council resolution passed this week calling on all sides to commit to a ceasefire.

A letter signed by more than 130 parliamentarians to the foreign secretary, David Cameron, highlights action taken by other countries, most recently Canada, which last week announced it would halt all arms exports to Israel.

Ministers are already facing calls from the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, to publish the legal advice to ministers on whether there is a serious risk Israel is breaching international humanitarian law, something that would normally trigger a suspension of UK arms sales.

The letter, coordinated by the Labour MP Zarah Sultana, was signed by 107 MPs and 27 peers including the former Labour Middle East minister Peter Hain, the Scottish National party’s Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, the former shadow minister Jess Phillips, the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservative peer Nosheena Mobarik.

Other signatories include the former Foreign Office permanent secretary John Kerr and the former Labour minister Tessa Blackstone. A total of 46 Labour MPs have backed the call and almost the entire SNP parliamentary party.

The letter argues that “business as usual” for UK arms exports to Israel is “totally unacceptable”. It says UK-made arms are being used in Gaza, noting a recent UN investigation that found an F-16 fighter jet made with UK parts was probably responsible for the bombing of British doctors in Gaza.

In two previous escalations of conflict in Gaza, the letter notes, UK governments have suspended arms sales to Israel. “Today,” the letter says, “the scale of violence committed by the Israeli military is vastly more deadly, but the UK government has failed to act”.

The letter comes after the surprise UN security council vote on Monday for a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire, a demand firmly rejected by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who cancelled a planned visit by an Israeli delegation to Washington in response to the US abstaining on the resolution. Attacks on Rafah have continued.

The US said the resolution was non-binding, but the UK does not share that interpretation.

Cameron has stepped up his criticism of Israel in recent weeks, but ministers say a decision on arms sales is a complex legal judgment that takes into account a range of factors including the efforts made by Israel to minimise civilian casualties. Some of the foreign secretary’s criticisms have by implication suggested Israel as the occupying power is not complying with its duty under international law to supply food and water to Palestinian civilians.

A growing number of human rights and aid organisations have also called for arms licences to be suspended, including Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid, Amnesty International and Islamic Relief.

Sultana said: “With the Israeli government now seemingly disregarding the UN security council’s ceasefire resolution, it is again violating international law and making the case for an end to arms sales impossible to ignore.

“The UK government must finally uphold the rights of the Palestinian people, heed this call from 130 cross-party parliamentarians, and immediately end arms sales to Israel.”

Katie Fallon, the advocacy manager at Campaign Against the Arms Trade, claimed the government’s response to an arms sales ban had “ranged from stonewalling MPs, repeating meaningless answers, and most concerningly, going to great lengths to ensure that legal advice from the Foreign Office never definitively admits there is a ‘clear risk’ Israel might use these arms exports in a serious violation of international humanitarian law”.

Separately, a request for judicial review is being sought over the UK decision to suspend its funding to Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. The challenge has been launched by the Bindmans law firm on behalf of a British-Palestinian man in an attempt to protect his family, who are Unrwa-registered refugees.

The legal challenge alleges that the suspension decision was made illogically and without due consideration of evidence, of international obligations, or of Foreign Office decision-making frameworks.

The UK suspended funding after allegations that a dozen Unrwa staff had taken part in the bloody assault on Israel on 7 October.

Ministers say they are waiting for two independent reports before making a decision on restoring funding. Many other countries, including Australia and Canada, have already resumed funding.

(Source: The Guardian)