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UK MPs pressure government to disclose legal advice on Israel's law compliance after leak

One MP calls for David Cameron to resign after revelations government received legal advice that Israel was in violation of international law
Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron as he leaves Westminster Abbey in London, on 11 March 2024 (AFP)
Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron as he leaves Westminster Abbey in London, on 11 March 2024 (AFP)

Pressure is mounting on the UK government over its assessment of Israel's commitment to international humanitarian law following a leak by a top Tory MP saying it had been notified by lawyers that Israel was not in compliance.

Conservative MP and foreign affairs committee chair Alicia Kearns told a Tory donor at an event this month that government lawyers believed Israel had breached international humanitarian law but that the government had not announced this, according to a leaked recording obtained by the Observer.

Such legal assessment would require the UK to cease all arms sales to Israel and intelligence sharing.

British MPs, including Kearns, have repeatedly called on the UK government to disclose legal counsel it had received and say whether it believed Israel was complying with international humanitarian law in Gaza. They have yet to receive an answer.

Following the leak, Kearns stood by her comments and urged the government to be transparent.

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"I remain convinced the government has completed its updated assessment on whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law, and that it has concluded that Israel is not demonstrating this commitment, which is the legal determination it has to make," she said.

'He would have to resign'

MPs are now calling for the government to come clean, with one calling for the resignation of Foreign Secretary David Cameron. 

"The report that the UK government has been told by its lawyers that Israel has violated international law in Gaza - but has refused to make this public - is a shocking revelation," said Labour MP Zarah Sultana on X, formerly Twitter.

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Sultana said that, if true, the report would have significant ramifications, including a ban on arms sales to Israel.

"Second, it would mean the foreign secretary’s position is untenable. He would have to resign," she added.

Parliament recessed for Easter on Tuesday without answering MPs' questions on Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law in Gaza. Sultana has called for parliament to be called back and the government to reveal what the lawyers have said.

Labour MP John McDonnell said on X: "Last week in Commons I pressed Andrew Mitchell, Foreign Office minister, to publish government's legal advice on the grounds that the supply of arms to Israel makes ministers & MPs, supporting this, complicit in its war crimes. Now we know why he refused."

Solicitor advocate Tayab Ali, director of the International Centre of Justice for Palestinianssaid that if ministers were aware of Israel's violation of the law and continued to supply it with weapons, "they have accessory liability for war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act and Rome Statute".

'No government does that'

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy asked Mitchell to give "a simple yes or no answer" in response to the question of whether the Foreign Office had been advised that British weapons might be used to commit or facilitate war crimes.

Mitchell, who was grilled by MPs on the same matter two weeks ago, replied that the UK had a robust arms exports licencing regime and that Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law was regularly assessed. 

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The last time the UK government was known to have assessed Israel's international humanitarian law compliance was on 18 December. It has since repeatedly evaded questions by MPs on the subject.

Mitchell also said that the Foreign Office would not publish any internal legal advice, arguing that "no government does that".

"I think at the time of the Iraq war [starting in 2003] and the highly contentious position then that the legal advice was not published," he said.

Following the leak, Lammy on Sunday recalled not being given a "clear answer" to his question, adding: "This raises serious questions about whether the government is complying with its own law."

"David Cameron and [Prime Minister] Rishi Sunak must now clean and publish the legal advice they have received," Lammy wrote on X.

The Muslim Association of Britain said that the government's failure to publicise the legal advice was a show of disrespect for democracy and the rule of law. 

The association called on the government to take immediate action, including imposing an arms embargo and sanctions on Israel.

"The complicit silence of politicians, on government benches and in the opposition, in the face of the atrocities in Gaza, is unconscionable," it said in a statement.

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