UK will not offer ‘carte blanche’ approval to Israel, says minister

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Britain will not offer “carte blanche” approval to Israel, which has made “big mistakes” in Gaza, but the nation is prosecuting a legitimate war and being held to higher standards than Hamas, the UK deputy prime minister has said.

Oliver Dowden’s intervention on Sunday, the six-month anniversary of Hamas’ October 7 attacks on Israel that triggered the offensive in Gaza, came after UK foreign secretary Lord David Cameron warned that Britain’s support for Israel was “not unconditional”.

“Israel is legitimately able to receive arms exports from us and our advice hasn’t changed on that. Of course, we have concerns about the way in which Israel is conducting itself. That is why we have raised issues . . . But that is in the context of a legitimate conflict that Israel is pursuing,” Dowden told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme.

The opposition Labour party has heaped pressure on Cameron to answer questions from MPs at the bar of the House of Commons on the legality of continued UK weapons sales to Israel.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy on Sunday accused Cameron of “dodging scrutiny on arms sales” from the elected chamber, as he renewed calls for the government to publish its internal legal advice on the matter.

The government’s stance towards Israel appeared to be hardening after an Israeli military strike on a humanitarian convoy in the strip killed seven aid workers — including three Britons — earlier this week.

The Israeli military said its soldiers had made a “grave mistake” and violated operating procedures, and that it had sacked two senior officers.

Cameron said in an article for The Sunday Times that there was “no doubt where the blame lies” for the “tragic and avoidable” killing of the World Central Kitchen aid workers.

The foreign secretary also stressed the importance of abiding by international law and warned Israel: “This must never happen again.”

However, the UK has stopped short of signalling it would restrict or suspend export licences for arms exports to Israel.

Dowden said government legal advice judging Israel to be acting within international law had not changed but indicated that Britain would ban arms sales to the nation if the assessment found Israel to be in breach.

He added: “We will of course act in accordance with our obligations under law in respect of arms sales . . . If it is the case that we can’t lawfully in accordance with the act do so, of course we won’t supply those arms.”

Defending the government’s decision not to publish its internal legal assessment of Israel’s activities, Dowden said Cameron’s formal advice to the business secretary on the matter had “not changed”.

Speaking earlier on Sky News, the deputy prime minister echoed Cameron’s message that Britain was not offering an unconditional endorsement of Israel’s conduct, saying: “We are not giving carte blanche and we have robust conversations with Israel.”

Dowden also stressed that people should remember the “trauma” Israel was facing and that the nation was being judged by different criteria from the “terrorist organisation Hamas”, which was a “very difficult enemy”.

“Of course, Israel has made mistakes, and made big mistakes, and we should hold them to account for that, but we are holding them to a very high standard,” he said.

Lammy told Sky News he had “serious concerns about a breach in international humanitarian law” in Gaza.

Over the weekend the UK government announced it would deploy a Royal Navy ship to help transport aid into Gaza as part of an international humanitarian maritime corridor into the strip from Cyprus, which is expected to be operational in early May.

As he announced £9.7mn new UK funding for supplies, equipment and expertise to support the maritime aid route, Cameron said: “The situation in Gaza is dire and the prospect of famine is real. We remain committed to getting aid to those who so desperately need it.”

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