UK Ignores Its Lawyers’ Warnings on Arms to Israel

In a leaked recording, the Tory chair of a foreign affairs committee says government lawyers advised Britain to stop arming Israel because it is committing war crimes, reports Joe Lauria.

Sunak meets Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Oct. 19, 2023. (Simon Walker / No. 10 Downing Street)

By Joe Lauria
in London
Special to Consortium News

Pressure is growing on the British government to stop arming Israel after a leaked audio recording revealed that it is ignoring the advice of its own lawyers that Israel is breaking international humanitarian law and that Britain is in danger of also violating international law by continuing to ship Israel arms. 

The leaked remarks were made by Alicia Kearns MP, Conservative chair of the House of Commons select committee on foreign affairs, at a March 13 Tory fundraising event and first published by The Observer on Saturday. 

In the leaked tape, Kearns says: “The Foreign Office has received official legal advice that Israel has broken international humanitarian law but the Government has not announced it. They have not said it, they haven’t stopped arms exports.

Kearns defended her published remarks, telling the newspaper:

“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. Transparency at this point is paramount, not least to uphold the international rules-based order.”

It is illegal under British law to export arms which could be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law.

The Observer reported: “The revelation will place [Foreign Secretary] Lord Cameron and prime minister Rishi Sunak under intense pressure because any such legal advice would mean the UK had to cease all arms sales to Israel without delay. Legal experts said that not to do so would risk putting the UK in breach of international law itself, as it would be seen as aiding and abetting war crimes by a country it was exporting arms to.”

‘Must Come Clean’

Kearns speaking in Parliament on Feb. 7. (U.K. Parliament/Maria Unger)

A Foreign Office spokesman told The Independent newspaper: “We keep advice on Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law under review and ministers act in accordance with that advice, for example when considering export licences. The content of the Government’s advice is confidential.”

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said Cameron and Sunak should “’come clean” and “publish the legal advice they have received,” The Independent reported. The leaked comments raise “serious questions about whether the Government is complying with its own law,” Lammy said.

Stephen Flynn, leader of the Scottish National Party in Parliament,  blasted the government for being “on the wrong side of history” and said Sunak and Cameron “owe it to the public and to the high offices they currently hold to be honest about whether they have received advice that Israel has breached international humanitarian law,” the newspaper reported.

“If reports are to be believed, and the UK Government has continued to supply arms and intelligence to Israel whilst knowing they were in breach of international humanitarian law, then the position of both would be untenable,” Flynn said.   

In the leaked tape, Kearns says Israel’s

“right to self-defence has a limit in law. It is not limitless. Some of the ways in which Israel is prosecuting this is making their long-term security less certain. It is making our long-term security less certain. I’m amazed that our national threat level has not gone up. And it breaks my heart because I know it could be done differently.”

[See: “The Revenge to Come,” CN, As’ad AbuKhalil.]

The Ramifications

The revelation shows a significant crack within the ruling party in Britain on supporting Israel no matter what it does in Gaza.  It is an additional sign that Western support for Israel’s genocide is on increasingly shaky ground.  

The news of the British government ignoring legal advice against further arming Israel has been ignored in most media outside the U.K., though it has clear implications for nations like Germany, France, Canada, Australia (ABC reported it) and above all, the United States, who are heavily arming Israel to carry out its genocide.

As the British government is trying to publicly ignore its own legal advice that is now publicly known, these governments and their attendant corporate medias are trying to ignore the British leak, lest it should lead to debate within their own countries about the legality of continuing to arm a genocidal state. As it is, Joe Biden is facing tough electoral prospects in November since 70 percent of his own party rejects his Gaza policy. 

British barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice told The Observer: “Countries supplying arms to Israel may now be complicit in criminal warfare. The public should be told what the advice says.”

Immediately ending arms shipments to Israel is imperative, but it could not undo these governments’ six-month long complicity in the most horrific of crimes. 

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette, the London Daily Mail and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He is the author of two books, A Political Odyssey, with Sen. Mike Gravel, foreword by Daniel Ellsberg; and How I Lost By Hillary Clinton, foreword by Julian Assange. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe

15 comments for “UK Ignores Its Lawyers’ Warnings on Arms to Israel

  1. Sharon Aldrich
    April 3, 2024 at 12:20

    Thank you, again Joe Lauria and CN for keeping us truly informed! Sometimes it seems that the dysfunction in the Western governments is some kind of nightmare. You assure us it is really happening!

  2. CaseyG
    April 3, 2024 at 10:55

    Netanyahu must go—he needs to go before any more Palestinians are murdered. The NAKBA began in 1948 and I am wondering , elected officials in the USA–WHEN are you going to stop this continual MURDERING of the Palestinians?

    • Burt
      April 3, 2024 at 11:42

      Netanyahoo may go, but that will not stop the slaughter. It seems that, in the eyes of Israelis, the slaughter of Palestinians is the one thing Bibi has gotten right.

  3. Horatio
    April 3, 2024 at 10:44

    This has been going on since 1948 and should be no surprise to anyone who bothers to look wholeheartedly at the situation. Tragically, it’s taken this tragedy to take us by the scruff of the neck and look at what we have been doing. It should also make a thinking individual reassess the idea that the Jews profess to believe that they are God’s chosen people. An axiom in the human experience is that any people who considers themselves above others will devolve into tyranny.

  4. Julia
    April 3, 2024 at 10:30

    Fair play to Alicia Kearns. So there is one Tory, and probably only one, with at least the semblance of morals and principles.

    A little off topic but there was an interview with an Israeli government ‘spokesman’ on UK Channel 4 last night, where the interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy cut it short on the grounds, I paraphrase a little, that “if you will not answer the questions I will not give you the opportunity to spout propaganda.”.

    Seems this spokesman is one David Mencer who had/has a very interesting links with Blair’s Labour Party and is/was a member of the Labour Friends of Israel. Maybe food for thought regarding Starmer’s appalling stance on Gaza….

    • Steve
      April 3, 2024 at 12:51

      Careful. Alicia Kearns has many dubious links to security services and the establishment. Words are cheap, particularly with an election on the horizon.

  5. Vera Gottlieb
    April 3, 2024 at 10:06

    US/UK = birds of the same nefarious feather. The Asses of Evil.

  6. Valerie
    April 3, 2024 at 02:59

    Sunak – “come clean”? Those words don’t belong in the same sentence. He’s an insincere, weasly little sycophant who will worm his way out of any inquiry.

  7. bardamu
    April 3, 2024 at 01:35

    The “rules based order” cares nothing for law–nor decency by any name or code.

  8. April 2, 2024 at 21:09

    Thank You Joe

  9. Jeff Harrison
    April 2, 2024 at 20:42

    “The West” is so completely corrupted that it’s all likely to collapse. The Zionists of Israel may like to claim that Israel is their promised land but it isn’t. The Jews in the old holy land in late BC cruised the Roman empire after the Romans kicked their petty kingdom to the curb and the got their Southwest tickets. Archeologists have even found two catacombs of Jewish burials in Rome from late BC, early AD. The vast majority of the Zionists in Israel are European, not Middle Eastern at all. They all fled to the Levant after the slaughter of the holocaust but “The West” didn’t want to pay the price for their dirty deeds. So, rather than making the Germans, Poles, Austrians, Italians, French, and Dutch pay for what they did, they followed the stages of a project: Enthusiasm, Disillusionment, Panic, Search for the Guilty, and finally, the punishment of the uninvolved

  10. Drew Hunkins
    April 2, 2024 at 17:26

    Israel’s a lunatic state bent on luring the world into a major conflagration. Bombing the Iranian diplomats in Damascus, murdering the good hearted food workers yesterday, bombing more hospitals (I’ve lost track of all the major Zio attacks on Palestinian hospitals) means we’re dealing with a rabid mad dog that’s gone berserk.

    Iran intends on responding soon to the Zio murder of its generals and diplomats in Syria. Once this happens our pro-Israel media here in the U.S. are going to go into hyper-drive demanding a violent response by the Washington-militarist empire.

    The creepy Zio sadists in Washington MUST be put under control by the American people. They fund virtually all of the politicians’ campaigns. We must call out their undemocratic encroachments on free-speech and free-expression in every sphere, we must demand Israel be held to account for its grotesque and malicious conduct that could lead to World War 3.

    • Steve
      April 3, 2024 at 07:42

      “The creepy Zio sadists in Washington MUST be put under control by the American people.”
      Unfortunately, it’s the case that the ‘creepy Zio sadists’ also control Westminster and certainly control Keir Starmers Labour Party (See Al Jazeera’s ‘The Labour Files’). I suspect that the other members of the ‘Five Eyes’ regimes also have the same problems.
      For free, open democracies to survive it’s necessary to eliminate the power of lobby groups.

      • Drew Hunkins
        April 3, 2024 at 12:20

        Creepy Zionist sadists could get us all killed.

        Creepy Zionist sadists must be challenged and called out in every single venue imaginable across the Western hemisphere.

        We simply can no longer afford to have creepy Zionist sadists destroying everything.

        Creepy Zionist sadists will eventually be defeated.

    • Joy
      April 4, 2024 at 04:44

      18 U.S. Code § 1091. That is the US domestic version of the Genocide Convention. Let’s find a way to get this law enforced. If nothing else all protests should include a mention of this statute. Put the fear of prison bars into the minds of the Biden Administration. If it doesn’t happen now, then when they leave office.

Comments are closed.