Dowden: UK would not supply arms to Israel in event of international law breach

Dowden: UK would not supply arms to Israel in event of international law breach

The UK would stop arms sales to Israel if it was found to be in breach of international law, Oliver Dowden has suggested.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the UK would not “supply those arms” if it was unable to legally do so.

It comes amid mounting pressure on ministers to reveal what legal advice they have received on continuing arms exports to Israel.

Mr Dowden said the Israelis had made “big mistakes” during the war, but would not be drawn into revealing the content of advice to ministers.

The issue has gained traction in recent days amid the political fallout following the killings of three British aid workers by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), an attack it admitted was a “grave mistake”.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said the UK will not supply arms to Israel if it cannot do so legally (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

There does however appear to be a divide within Government over the strength of approach towards Israel.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has warned that Britain’s support for Israel is not unconditional, amid continuing concerns over its Gaza campaign.

But Mr Dowden suggested Israel is held to a higher standard than other countries, and some of its critics relish pushing a case against the Middle Eastern nation.

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked by the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg if the Government would stop arms sales if it received legal advice that Israel was in breach of international humanitarian law.

He replied: “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, but that is precisely the position, for example, even in respect of the United States or any other country around the world.

“We rightly hold ourselves to a high standard, and we hold the countries to whom we export arms to a high standard, and I think that is what you would expect.

“And it contrasts so strongly, our adherence to very high values, with the appalling atrocities that have been committed by terrorist organisations against Israel.”

Mr Dowden would not reveal details of what legal counsel Lord Cameron has received on the matter, but said the Government receives periodic advice updates.

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch makes the final decision on arms export licences, based on advice from the Foreign Secretary.

Mr Dowden insisted the UK has not given the IDF “carte blanche” and has held robust conversations with Israel’s leaders following the killings of British aid workers John Chapman, 57, James “Jim” Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47 on April 1.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said he has ‘serious concerns about a breach in international humanitarian law’ by Israel (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

On whether the UK should continue to supply arms, the Cabinet minister told Sky News: “The manner in which some people are seizing on this issue and trying to hold Israel to incredibly high standards… of course it is right that we hold Israel to high standards, but I just think there is a bit of relish from some people about the way in which they are pushing this case against Israel.”

Mr Dowden said he would not go so far as to suggest this is coded antisemitism, but said people need to remember the “trauma” Israelis are suffering.

“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 added.

This stands in contrast with Lord Cameron, who said there is “no doubt where the blame lies” for the attacks, adding in a Sunday Times article: “This must never happen again.”

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy told Sky News he has “serious concerns about a breach in international humanitarian law” by Israel.

The Tottenham Labour MP urged Lord Cameron to reveal what legal advice he has received, and asked him to make an unconventional appearance at the threshold of the House of Commons to answer MPs’ questions on the ongoing conflict.

Sunday marks six months since the October 7 attack in which Hamas militants breached the barrier between Gaza and Israel and attacked military bases and civilian communities.

More than 1,100 people were killed in the attack, with 250 more captured as hostages by Hamas, approximately 130 of whom remain in captivity.

It was the trigger for Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health authority, as well as mass displacement of the population and a humanitarian crisis.