Israel and Gaza

– in the House of Commons at 12:39 pm on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa) 12:39, 26 March 2024

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Israel and Gaza. As the House knows, the United Kingdom has long been calling for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow for the safe release of hostages and more aid to reach Gaza, leading to a sustainable ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life.

Yesterday, the international community took a significant step towards achieving that. We welcome yesterday’s United Nations Security Council resolution 2728, which reflected widespread international support for Britain’s position and considerable efforts by our diplomats to secure a consensus. This is an issue that can polarise and divide, but yesterday in New York there was a shared sense of purpose. I am sure the whole House would agree that we must capitalise on this moment.

We want to see an immediate, sustained humanitarian pause, which would allow for the safe release of hostages and more aid to reach Gaza. That is what yesterday’s resolution called for, why the United Kingdom voted “yes” on that text, and why the Government are now focused on seeing the resolution implemented as quickly as possible. This resolution sets out the urgent demand for the

“unconditional release of all hostages”.

Hamas must act on this now. The kidnapping and violence on 7 October was appalling. It has been unconscionable to hold them in captivity for so long, and it is dreadful to hold them any longer. We strongly support the intensive diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States to secure their release.

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, Lord Ahmad and I have met the families of hostages, and reiterated to them personally our desire to see their loved ones freed and their agony brought to an end. We urge all sides to seize the opportunity and continue negotiations to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Yesterday’s resolution also sent a clear message on the need for all parties to the conflict to uphold international humanitarian law and for delivery of aid to be scaled up urgently. This requires the lifting of all barriers impeding its delivery.

Palestinian civilians face a devastating and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. His Majesty’s Government continue to reiterate these messages in their contacts with the Israeli Government, and the Government are exploring every avenue to deliver aid by land, sea and air. Last week, enough aid to feed over a quarter of a million people was delivered by land from Jordan. Britain is fully engaged in the international effort to set up a maritime corridor for aid into Gaza. Yesterday, the first airdrop of British aid by the Royal Air Force, with the support of Jordan, took place.

We regret that this resolution did not condemn the abhorrent and brutal terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October. The UK condemns these attacks unequivocally. We have been forthright in speaking up for Israel’s right to defend itself and ensure such an attack can never happen again. We want Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security. An immediate humanitarian pause, leading to a sustainable ceasefire, is the best way to achieve a lasting peace.

We continue to work on the other core elements required for such a process to succeed. We have supported the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the west bank and Gaza under the leadership of Prime Minister Mustafa. An international support package is vital for building on Prime Minister Mustafa’s appointment. We also want to see the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel. Hamas can no longer remain in charge of Gaza. Finally, we need to offer a political horizon to the Palestinians that provides a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

The resolution passed by the Security Council yesterday does not guarantee this outcome, but it is a significant step forward. The Government will spare no effort in building on this opportunity. We want to create irreversible momentum towards a lasting peace. Mr Speaker, I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs 12:44, 26 March 2024

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement and echo his support for the formation of a new Palestinian Government, which must be supported internationally, alongside the need for a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in security and peace. Yesterday, the UN Security Council finally passed resolution 2728 calling for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate release of all hostages and full humanitarian access in Gaza. That was incredibly welcome and overdue. It must now be a turning point.

Labour welcomes, too, the fact that the Government were able to support the resolution. It represents a major shift in Government policy, which previously called only for an immediate pause rather than an immediate ceasefire. Why were the Government not able to back Labour’s motion last month? Much more importantly, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the UN resolution is implemented in full, putting pressure on Hamas—who reportedly rejected the latest compromise—and Israel to reach agreement on a ceasefire now? That could not be more vital given the terrible human cost of the war, with more than 30,000 Palestinians dead, Israeli hostages still in chains nearly six months on from the 7 October massacre, and a man-made and preventable famine imminent.

Aid needs to get into Gaza at scale, and it also needs to be distributed. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is unmatched in its ability to distribute aid. With just a few weeks until the new financial year, can the Minister tell us whether the UK’s funding to UNRWA will resume?

The UN motion also said that all parties must

“comply with their obligations under international law”.

In that context, I will raise a specific incident with the Minister. On 18 January, an International Rescue Committee and Medical Aid for Palestinians compound was struck in a near-fatal airstrike by the Israeli military. The co-ordinates were known to Israel and formally de-conflicted. A British medical team and local staff were inside, who, since then, have received six explanations for that shocking incident, but the truth is still unclear. Will the Government support a full and independent investigation to deliver accountability and reiterate that attacks on humanitarian workers are outrageous and must not happen?

The Foreign Secretary is not required to come to this House, but he is required to provide legal advice to the Business Secretary on arms exports. The law is clear that the Government cannot grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items could be used in violation of international humanitarian law. The war in Gaza has seen numerous allegations made of serious breaches of humanitarian law by Israeli forces, and the International Criminal Court is currently conducting an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by all parties in Gaza.

On Friday, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary asking him to publish the most recent legal advice he has received on this matter. So I end by asking the Minister one simple question: has the Foreign Secretary received legal advice saying that there is a clear risk that items licensed by the UK might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law? The answer is a simple yes or no.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his strong support for United Nations Security Council resolution 2728. He asks what the Government will do to ensure that it is implemented in full. Just as that resolution shows considerable success for British diplomatic work—particularly in New York—he and the House may rest assured that we will be doing everything we can to ensure that it is indeed implemented in full.

The right hon. Gentleman suggests that that is a reflection of Labour’s position in the House. I hope that, by and large, the Labour position is supportive of the Government, but he should be quite clear that yesterday’s resolution represents a tremendous success for British diplomacy. It means that the European Union, the United Nations and the United States now take our position on the priorities. I remind the right hon. Member that what we said very clearly was that we needed an immediate pause, so that we could get aid in and the hostages out,

“leading to a sustainable ceasefire”.

He will see that British position fully reflected in what was decided yesterday in New York.

The right hon. Member asks me about UNRWA. I can tell him that the interim report by the former French Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna—the final report is not due until 20 April—is now with the Secretary-General in New York and we hope to learn more about it today.

The right hon. Member refers to a specific strike, which the House has already heard about, and I agree with him entirely that we expect a full, total and definitive explanation for what happened from the Israeli Government. He asks me about arms export licensing. Let me give him a very clear response to that: we have a robust arms export licensing regime. All exports are regularly assessed against clear criteria. We regularly review Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law and act in accordance with that. As he indicated, we advise the Department for Business and Trade on the situation in-country. The DBT and its Secretary of State are the decision-making authorities, but I would point out to him that UK exports are very small, amounting to 0.02% of Israel’s military imports, and we publish a comprehensive report on official statistics every quarter.

Finally, the right hon. Member asks me to publish the legal advice. I would point out to him that no Government do that. He will recall, I think, the highly contentious position taken at the time of the Iraq war not to publish the legal advice. For a party that aspires possibly in the future to be in Government, I am sure that Labour will see the merit of these conventions.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories

Yesterday the UN Security Council passed a resolution for a Ramadan ceasefire—in effect, a pause. Intrinsic to that pause was the release of hostages. Can the deputy Foreign Secretary please update us on progress to get those hostages home to safety, because the resolution was very clear that that should happen immediately? Who is enforcing the immediate release of hostages? Can he also clarify whether the Government agree with the US statement this morning that the UN Security Council resolution is non-binding? How are we going to ensure that, on both sides, the return of hostages and the ceasefire for Ramadan are enacted? If they are not, I fear that the UN Security Council will face an existential crisis.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, sets out with great eloquence what the international community now requires to take place as a result of resolution 2728 being passed yesterday. As I set out in my earlier remarks, we regret that the resolution has not condemned terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October, but I want to re-emphasise that all the things that Britain has previously been calling for are now accepted and were recorded in that resolution. We will, as my hon. Friend suggests, continue to do everything we can to ensure that the resolution is implemented.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

I thank the Minister for prior sight of his statement.

We very much welcome the UN Security Council resolution, which demands an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan. This is an important first step in achieving the permanent ceasefire that we on the SNP Benches have been urging for several months. We also welcome the UN demands for an immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. We call on all parties to adhere to their obligations under international law, to protect civilians and to lift all barriers to humanitarian aid.

That this motion specifically demands a ceasefire makes it legally binding, and it obliges all combatants to adhere to it, yet already there is significant concern that Israel does not intend to comply with the demands. The Israeli ambassador to the UN and the Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, among others, have indicated that they will not adhere to the demands of the ceasefire, with Mr Katz stating:

“The state of Israel will not cease fire.”

Israel, as we know, has form for ignoring binding resolutions of the United Nations, but rarely can it have done so in such a blatant manner and with such a complete disregard for the rules on which we all rely to keep us safe.

Given that Israel has signalled its intention to ignore the demand for a ceasefire, and rather than waiting for the inevitable to happen before acting, can the Minister assure the House that, if and when Israel launches its proposed offensive on Rafah, the work will already have been done to impose immediate sanctions, including, most importantly, the banning of arms sales to Israel, and that Tel Aviv will be under no illusion as to the consequences of its actions should it ignore this resolution?

Can the Minister update the House on what discussions have been had, or are being planned with our partners and allies, to ensure that we take decisive international action should Israel breach the terms of this resolution? Finally, can he confirm whether it is the opinion of the UK Government that, should Israel not adhere to the UN resolution, it will be in violation of a binding resolution and thus stand in breach of international law?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

First of all, may I welcome the hon. Member’s support for the Government’s position, which has not always been the case in these statements? In particular, I welcome the consensual language from the SNP on the ceasefire, the release of hostages and getting aid in. That is very important. It means that the authority that the Prime Minister brought to this Dispatch Box, which is now the essence of this new resolution 2728, gets broad support from the House, which is very welcome.

On the remaining parts of what the hon. Member said, the Government want to try to bring people together. We want to end the violence as soon as we can, ensure that the hostages get out and aid gets in, and lift people’s eyes to a political track once this catastrophe is over. That is what the Government are trying to do, and the hon. Member will forgive me for not going down the rather more divisive line that he took.

In respect of military action in Rafah, the hon. Member will have heard what the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and I have said about the importance of respecting international humanitarian law and the position of civilians caught out in the open there, and I hope that he will agree with that.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

The terrorist attack of 7 October on Israel has provoked widespread antisemitism in this country and around the world. The latest manifestation of that was at Manchester airport yesterday when Border Force guards made it apparent that they do not want Israeli Jews to enter this country. Two innocent victims of the music festival slaughter were berated and told:

“We have to make sure that you are not going to do what you are doing in Gaza over here.”

That was to two victims of the Nova music festival slaughter. Blaming all Jews for the actions of their country is obviously antisemitic. These are people in uniform acting for this country as Border Force officers. It is a disgrace beyond all proportion. The detention of those victims for several hours was clearly unlawful. They are being offered free legal representation, which I would urge them to take up. Can the deputy Foreign Secretary confirm that Jews and Israelis are still welcome to enter this country?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his extremely robust comments on an absolutely outrageous, shocking and disgraceful incident, which is now being personally investigated by the Home Secretary. I think everyone will condemn without reservation the extraordinary events that appear to have taken place at Manchester, which were made even worse by the details that my right hon. and learned Friend gave of the detention that took place.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I feel very uncomfortable about the Minister’s comments about taking credit for the UN Security Council resolution when the UK abstained twice in the process. There is not an immediate ceasefire and, after six months, I dread to think how many Gazans have been killed or will die of starvation. Given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Gaza, does he agree that it is vital that the Cabinet Minister responsible for overseas aid makes himself available to this House for scrutiny? Surely it is not right that Members are updated on the Foreign Secretary’s views via the media, rather than from his answering questions in this place. When will the Government do us the courtesy of responding to the Procedure Committee’s report?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady knows that I greatly respect her and the work that she does on the Select Committee. I do not think she should feel uncomfortable, because Britain has taken a principled position that is delivered by resolution 2728, which was passed yesterday. I hope that she will join the general approval for the strong British diplomatic effort that helped to deliver that.

On the Foreign Secretary, I believe that the Government response to the Procedure Committee report is imminent. She asks about the member of the Cabinet responsible for British aid and development policy: that is me. Both I and the Foreign Secretary speak with one voice.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

A lot of points will be made today arguing that responsibility for the ceasefire lies purely with Israel, but that is simply not true. A ceasefire must take place on all sides. Those who want Israel to lay down its arms but do not insist on Hamas laying down theirs are basically saying that Israel does not have the right to ensure that its security is in place. Until Hamas dismantle their terrorist organisation, which threatens the lives of Jewish people, who they do not think should exist—they do not think the state of Israel should exist—we must ensure that any ceasefire is observed by both sides of this coin.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope that he will have noticed that I am trying to take a balanced approach to these matters. The reason Britain did not call for an immediate ceasefire before, as so many other countries did, was that it was perfectly clear that it was not going to happen. He will recall that, when asked about a ceasefire, Hamas made it absolutely clear that their intention was not only to not have a ceasefire, but to replicate once again the terrible events that took place on 7 October.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Labour, Middlesbrough

The Minister has said on numerous occasions that the UK has a robust export licensing regime. Many Opposition Members are not satisfied with that response. Will he finally tell us what the legal advice is on whether this country is in compliance with our obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure that those arms are not used to commit offences in Gaza?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman really should not expect me to make a different point from the Dispatch Box having already set out the Government’s position. That is the position of the Government, and that is what I will reiterate. On the arms export licensing and the application of international humanitarian law, I set out the Government’s position clearly in my response to the shadow Foreign Secretary. I have nothing further to add to that at this time.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

The UN resolution has undermined efforts to secure the release of the hostages held by Hamas, with a collapse in negotiations only today. Hamas have reiterated their hard-line positions, which were previously criticised by the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the resolution will not only embolden Hamas, who hope to achieve a ceasefire without releasing the hostages, but enable them to maintain their grip on the people of Gaza?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

It certainly should not do that. If I may, I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the explanation of vote that was published at the same time as Britain supported the resolution yesterday. We said:

“We regret that this resolution has not condemned the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hams on the 7th of October. The UK condemns these attacks unequivocally.”

I hope that he will bear that in mind in reaching his conclusions about resolution 2728.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

What is the Government’s response to Israel shutting off north Gaza to UNRWA, the only aid organisation with the ability to deliver aid at scale? When will the Government reinstate funding to UNRWA to stop and alleviate the starvation of Gazans?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

We have made it clear that we will look at the interim report from Catherine Colonna, and the United Nations reports. We hope that reforms will be made in such a way that we can reinstate funding, but I should emphasise to the hon. Lady that no funding is due from Britain until the end of April. In respect of her point about the spread of UNRWA, it is the only organisation that has the assets in place—the warehouses, the vehicles, the logistical support—so it is essential that those logistical elements are available if aid is to be distributed effectively in Gaza.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Constituents have been in touch to tell me that they feel badly let down by the vote at the UN yesterday. I just do not understand how the Minister and the Foreign Secretary can say that nothing has changed in policy terms when the UK has just voted for a resolution that does not condemn the Hamas atrocity of 7 October, and de-links a ceasefire with the release of hostages. As my hon. Friend Dr Offord pointed out, does that not make it less likely that the hostages will be released?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. The resolution sets out the urgent demand for the unconditional release of all hostages. We welcome the ongoing diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States to that end—she will have seen the reports in the media. As I say, we have set out clearly in our explanation of vote our regret that the resolution did not once again condemn the terrorist attack, but she has heard us say repeatedly from the Dispatch Box that we do condemn it.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Labour, Manchester, Gorton

Over the past week, we have seen Israel continue to commit atrocities across Gaza, with the Al-Shifa Hospital besieged for several days. Medical staff from inside the hospital reported gun battles, workers being beaten, patients dying on the floor, and even execution-style killings. That is yet another example of Israel’s merciless targeting of civilians. Will the Minister unequivocally condemn Israel for authorising and carrying out such heinous attacks, and make clear that hospitals and places of refuge must not be targeted?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The House will not recognise all of the things that the hon. Gentleman has just said. Let me make it absolutely clear once again: Israel does have the right of self-defence, but she must abide by international humanitarian law.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

It is a testament to how polarised and contested our world has become that the custodians of international security took six months to agree UN Security Council resolution 2728, which calls for a ceasefire, the release of hostages and access for aid. Does the deputy Foreign Secretary agree that it is concerning that vital UK aid has to be airdropped into Gaza by the Royal Air Force, effectively bypassing Israel? Should the new port being built off Gaza to operate the new maritime corridor become a permanent operation with inspections, allowing the international community to ensure that the scale of aid required gets into Gaza?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am grateful to the former Chair of the Defence Committee for what he says. He is right that the best way to get aid into Gaza is by truck—by road—and that is what Britain has consistently pressed for. We know that there were 500 trucks a day before the catastrophe of 7 October. There has been an increase in March, but we are now looking at something like 150 a day. We are doing everything we can to try to ensure that we get aid into Gaza in the easiest way possible, but as my right hon. Friend said, we are also looking at all other options, including the airdrop that took place yesterday on 25 March in which the Royal Air Force dropped 10 tonnes of food. We anticipate that further airdrops will be necessary because of the situation he has outlined.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

Can I set the record straight for Conservative Members that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches have been calling for months for an immediate bilateral ceasefire, and that we welcome yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution? However, the reality is that northern Gaza is on the brink of famine, with children dying of malnutrition, and tens of thousands of children are being killed or maimed by Israeli forces’ bombardment. Does the Minister believe that Netanyahu’s Government are complying with the International Court of Justice’s provisional order, which states that Israel must ensure with immediate effect that its forces do not commit any of the acts prohibited by the genocide convention? If he does not think that the Israeli Government are complying with that order, what is he doing about it?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

In respect of the second part of the hon. Lady’s question, let me make the Government’s position clear: we respect the role and independence of the ICJ, but we do not believe, and have never believed, that the case launched now will be helpful in bringing the two parties together. She will know that the court has called for the immediate release of the hostages and the need to get more aid into Gaza, and we strongly agree with that. She will also know that the ICJ’s provisional measures order is binding on the parties to the dispute as a matter of international law, but she will see that through the work we have been carrying out, we are trying to address all the points that she made in the first part of her question. We are obviously grateful for the support of Liberal Democrat Members in trying to achieve that.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

May I press my right hon. Friend further on the answer he gave to Julie Elliott? The humanitarian situation in Gaza is, of course, dire. In northern Gaza, it is estimated that some 70% of the population are suffering the most appalling food shortages and are resorting to eating animal feed, bird seed and grass. Does the Minister not recognise that respected international partners such as Australia, Canada, Sweden and Denmark have now restored full funding to UNRWA, which is the most important and capable humanitarian organisation in Gaza? Does he not think that the United Kingdom should also do so as quickly as possible, and in what circumstances and under what conditions will that be done?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

At the moment, Britain does not have a requirement to provide extra money, because we have fully funded UNRWA through our commitment to that organisation up until the next financial year, which effectively means the end of April. In an earlier response, I addressed the point that my right hon. Friend made so eloquently about the requirement for UNRWA assets to be used. As he knows, we will look very carefully at the two reports I mentioned—including the interim one, which should be available in New York today—in the hope that measures will be taken that will allow everyone, not just Britain, to restore funding to UNRWA in due course.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker. In the past hour, news agencies have reported that the Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has told Israeli Army Radio that, “We must enter Rafah now”. Surely this announcement that a military assault will be undertaken on an area of 1.7 million displaced people is a breach of a binding UN Security Council resolution and of international law. The Minister must urgently set out what action he will consider to prevent the Israeli armed forces taking such action. More specifically, does the UK agree that should Israel proceed with this action and refuse to adhere to the demand for an immediate ceasefire, it will be in violation of a binding resolution and in breach of international law?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

Given the position that the hon. Lady has just outlined, I am sure she will welcome yesterday’s resolution 2728 and the progress that it reflects. She has quoted a specific Israeli Minister, but she will know that there are many voices in Israel at this time. Israel is a pluralist democracy—the only one in the region—and we are hearing many different voices. In respect of any attack on Rafah, she will have heard the words of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and indeed myself at this Dispatch Box on the ill-advised nature of military action in Rafah at this time.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I have listened carefully to the answers that my right hon. Friend has given about the resolution passed, but it is my understanding that only a few weeks ago, the UK explained at the UN that it could not vote for a resolution that does not condemn the atrocities Hamas committed, and that simply calling for a ceasefire would not make one happen. It even said last month that such a resolution

“could endanger the hostage negotiations”.

As night follows day, the resolution was passed yesterday, and the Israelis have had to withdraw their negotiators due to what they have described as “delusional demands” from Hamas. Will my right hon. Friend accept that this resolution has made a material change for the worse, and that getting the hostages out has now actually been made less likely?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The British position has always been very clear: we want a pause that enables the hostages to come out and enables food and vital humanitarian supplies to come in. We believe and hope that that will lead to a sustainable ceasefire, and I do not think there is anything in resolution 2728 that acts or goes against that.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Labour, Birmingham, Yardley

The deputy Foreign Secretary stated earlier that he will expect a full explanation from Israel of the incident that was highlighted by my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy. That incident happened on 18 January, and Alicia Kearns and I raised it with the Minister around eight weeks ago. I have also been to the UN in the past few weeks and raised it with diplomats there. When can we expect an explanation of why British aid agencies have been bombed by Israel, potentially using weapons provided in part by us? Can the Minister tell me when that explanation will come?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for supporting the position that the British Government and I have set out—that we require an explanation from the Israeli Government of the actions that took place. We continue to press, but she will understand that timing is not a matter on which the decision rests with the British Government. However, the Israeli Government will have heard her voice and, indeed, our voices on this matter.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The immediate impact of this resolution appears to be that Hamas have hardened their stance on the release of hostages, and the Israelis have said that they will not move until hostages are released. Apparently, the negotiations in Qatar were limited to being about only 40 of the hostages, namely the most weak and vulnerable. What is left out of the resolution is the requirement for immediate access to those hostages for the International Committee of the Red Cross, so that it can assess their condition and, indeed, whether they can travel at all. Will my right hon. Friend take action to demand immediate access to those hostages for the Red Cross, so that that assessment can take place?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

Yes. We have been absolutely clear that the hostages must be released as swiftly as possible. My hon. Friend will have seen the reports about the negotiations that have been taking place over the past few days, and while I cannot give a running commentary, I can tell him that Britain is doing everything it possibly can to ensure that those negotiations are successful. To address what he said about the resolution, no one can be in any doubt about the position of the British Government, and indeed the House of Commons, on the release of the hostages.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

We can all see the devastation in Gaza, where more than 30,000 people have been killed. Two thirds of those people are women and children, and aid is still not getting in. While that is taking place, the situation on the west bank is, equally, worsening, so will the Minister condemn the recent announcement that 800 hectares of the west bank have been designated as Israeli state land?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

On the hon. Member’s last point, she will know what we have consistently said about the illegality of these annexations, and I repeat that today. She talks about the position on the west bank. She will have seen the extensive work that our Foreign Secretary has put in by going there, and by ensuring that Britain does everything it can to make certain that, when we have the opportunity for a political track, the Palestinian Authority is able to move forward. On the points she made about Gaza and the lack of humanitarian support, she will have seen that on 13 March, Britain pledged a further £10 million this year, taking the total to over £100 million, and that on 15 March a field hospital funded by UK aid, from UK-Med, went into Gaza. It has UK and local medics, and we hope that it will shortly be treating 100 patients every day.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I welcome the immediate humanitarian pause in UNSC resolution 2728, and I congratulate our diplomats on their role in this resolution. As the deputy Foreign Secretary has said, the key to delivering enough aid to prevent famine is the use of Israel’s land corridors, so could my right hon. Friend confirm whether Israel will provide enough access to prevent a potential famine, and whether both Israel and Hamas are committed to continuing talks during the remaining 15 days of Ramadan, with the aim of moving towards a sustained ceasefire afterwards?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about the unstinting work of British diplomats, for which our entire country should be extremely grateful—particularly the work that they have done in New York at the UN to drive forward Britain’s contribution to the resolution of this matter. On the restrictions on land entry, my hon. Friend is right that we need to do more. There has been some increase: 137 trucks got in on 24 March, and 81 trucks, mainly carrying food, were able to get in on the 25th. However, we urge the Israeli Government to do more about easing the restrictions on opening hours, to limit or stop the demonstrations at Nitzana, and to do more to grant visas, as there are some 50 applications for visas pending. If all those steps were taken, it would make a material difference to road entry.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

After six months of bloodshed, starvation and the deliberate blocking of essential aid to Gaza, the UN Security Council has finally demanded an immediate ceasefire for the rest of Ramadan. However, let us be clear in this House that 15 days is nowhere near long enough to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe across Gaza. We see no meaningful end to the violence today, the 16th day of Ramadan—almost two months after the ICJ warned of the plausible risk of genocide. Frankly, that leaves the resolution ringing extremely hollow. Will the Minister heed the calls of this House and demand a permanent, lasting ceasefire, and can he explain how he expects this ceasefire, demanded by the Security Council, to be enforced if the UK Government are selling arms to the Israeli military—arms that are used to bomb Gaza and break this UN-mandated ceasefire?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I addressed the issue of the supply of arms in earlier answers on this statement. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he is not recognising the importance of the resolution that was passed yesterday. First, it implemented the key things that Britain has been asking for, and secondly, it represents a unity that allows the issues that he and I care about so much to be advanced. I put it to him that resolution 2728 is of much greater importance than he submits.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West

It is clear to many international partners that the UK Government must now accept that Israel is potentially committing war crimes and genocide. If there is even a chance that Israel is breaking international law by potentially committing war crimes and genocide, why will the UK Government not take all precautions to adhere to their obligations as a party to the genocide convention and the arms trade treaty, and immediately cease arms exports to Israel?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I say to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect and with whom I have worked in the past, that there is something uniquely repulsive about accusing Israel of genocide, given the events that took place on 7 October, when more Jewish people perished in a pogrom than at any time since the holocaust and the second world war.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

The UN Security Council has voted for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for only the remainder of Ramadan. It is almost two months since the ICJ’s plausible genocide ruling, yet the killing, the destruction and the weaponised starvation go on. Can the Minister outline what conversations he and the Foreign Secretary are having with their counterparts in the United States to ensure that the UN resolution this week is implemented, and will the UK Government cease arming Israel, to ensure that the UK upholds the ICJ’s ruling and its provisional measures?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I do not precisely recognise the hon. Member’s description of the ICJ interim ruling, but I welcome her support for resolution 2728 and the position of the British Government. On the work we are doing with our counterparts, not only in America but all around the world, I can assure her that it will continue with the greatest vigour.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

No matter which way we look at it, the Government’s backing of the one-sided UN resolution yesterday represents an abject surrender to the demands of the Hamas propaganda machine and the cynical use of the Palestinian population as human shields. Can the Minister explain to us how such a resolution, which gives hope to the terrorists, will ever lead to the release of the hostages and ensure no repeat of the atrocity of 7 October, especially as it enables Hamas to preserve their units, regroup and re-establish their regime?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I simply do not recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s description of resolution 2728. It is Hamas who are using the Palestinian people as a human shield in the grotesque way that we see in Rafah.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

I welcome the UN Security Council finally calling for an immediate ceasefire, as well as for the return of all hostages, including Palestinian children who are in military prisons. The Minister must now indicate what enforcement measures the Government will implement to escalate the pressure to stop Israel’s military assault, uphold the ceasefire, and ensure that emergency assistance is provided through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to those being starved to death.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank the hon. Lady for her support for UN resolution 2728, which, as I set out in the statement, reflects widespread international support for Britain’s position and the very considerable efforts by our diplomats to secure a consensus.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

The United Nations Security Council’s vote for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate release of all hostages and full humanitarian access in Gaza must be received by the UK Government as an immediate push for that UN resolution to be enacted. I hope that the Minister and the Government will act accordingly, because it is so necessary. Rather than obfuscating on the issue, will the Minister actually condemn from the Dispatch Box the recent announcement of 800 hectares of the west bank as Israeli state land? Surely this colonial-era land grab ploy, and the building of more illegal settlements, must be condemned and halted.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The position of the British Government, and I believe of the official Opposition, has always been clear on illegal settlements, and I reiterated it a moment ago.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

I, too, warmly welcome yesterday’s resolution, and the change in the Government’s position that supported it. As both sides are now in clear conflict, with a clear breach of a United Nations Security Council resolution that was supported by the UK, what are the implications for future UK arms sales to Israel?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for resolution 2728, but there has been no change whatsoever in the position of the British Government. Britain has long been calling for an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire, and without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life, as the fastest way to get the hostages out and the aid in. That is what the resolution calls for and why the United Kingdom voted yes on that text. It is a very considerable tribute to the work of British diplomats around the world and in New York.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

The passing of the UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire is incredibly welcome, and the issue now facing our Government is what they will do to ensure it is enforced. We saw overnight more Israeli bombing, and more killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. It was right that sanctions were imposed on extremist settlers last month. If the Israeli Government continue to ignore the ruling of the UN’s highest body, should our Government not be clear that severe consequences will follow, including further sanctions, until Israel respects the ceasefire resolution and international law?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I dissent from the language he is using, and instead seek, as the British Government have consistently done, to ensure there is a pause that allows aid to get in and the hostages to get out, and for there to be a sustainable ceasefire. That is the right approach, and one that is substantially honoured in resolution 2728, which was passed yesterday.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

States and parties to the arms trade treaty are obliged to deny arms exports if there is an overriding risk that the arms transferred could be used to commit breaches of international humanitarian law. A Dutch court ruled on 12 February that the Government of the Netherlands must stop the export of parts for the F-35 joint strike fighter to Israel. The UK Government are also thought to export parts of the F-35 under an open general export licence. Will the Minister consider that under these circumstances we should stop the arms trade with Israel, and that at the very least this House needs a standing committee to examine arms exports?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I have long made clear that Britain has the strongest regulatory regime in respect of arms exports. I made clear in my response to the shadow Foreign Secretary the Government’s view on that issue, and I have nothing further to add to what I said then.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I heard what the Secretary of State said about his pride in the principled position that he feels the Government have taken with a ceasefire, but he will know that we can only defend international law if we uphold it. He has heard across the House concerns that UK-made arms may be being used in Gaza, and he knows full well the details of the strategic licensing export criteria. He knows that man-made famine is a violation of those human rights obligations. That is why many of us are left wondering why the Government have not suspended arms sales to Israel in light of that evidence. I heard what he said earlier about the process; I understand the process he set out. He talked about reviewing licences every quarter. One must presume, as we are coming to the end of March, that this is the end of a quarter. When will we see a report published on the matter of arms sales to Israel?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The point I made was that we publish comprehensive official statistics every quarter. That is something we will continue to do, and I have nothing to add to what I have already said about the arms regime. The hon. Lady raised the issue of famine, and she will know that the British Government are incredibly concerned about the failure to get more food into Gaza. That is why we have been pursuing a maritime route, why yesterday the Royal Air Force dropped some 40 tonnes of food, and why we have deployed a field hospital. We will continue to do everything we can, as she would wish, to ensure that famine does not take hold in Gaza.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian

The UN Security Council resolution is welcome, but it requires action by individual member states. As well as taking action on arms sales, will the UK ensure that there is no complicity with the Israeli war machine in the use of UK air bases by F-35s, or any other military co-operation with Israel as its war on Gaza continues? Secondly, will the Secretary of State ensure that the suspension of funding to UNRWA, which he recognises is the organisation best placed to deliver humanitarian aid on the ground, is lifted forthwith, given that it was solely based on Israeli allegations that have already largely been refuted?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman’s final point will resonate across the House, but I am grateful to him for his support for resolution 2728, which was passed yesterday. He will know that Britain has fully funded the money for UNRWA in accordance with its commitments, and we very much hope that the position will be clarified as a result of the two reports for which we are waiting by the time any additional British money would be due.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation)

The UN resolution is welcome and long overdue, given the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Gaza, but I wish to press the Minister on the licensing of arms for export to Israel. He said that the process is robust and regularly reviewed, implying that because no action has been taken, those reviews have not raised any risks. I have previously asked him to condemn the many videos circulating on social media that show Israeli soldiers filming themselves performing acts that range from the unbelievably crass, such as posing on the bikes of dead Gazan children, to the vilely violent, such as setting fire to food stores or bombing residential buildings—violent and potentially criminal. Will the Minister say whether he has seen those videos, and if so does he condemn them? Does he have confidence that no British exports are part of what seem to be vile and potentially criminal acts on the part of the IDF?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank the hon. Lady for her support for United Nations resolution 2728, which was passed yesterday. She asks whether I have seen any such videos, and I have not. Were such videos to be genuine, and were they to portray what she describes, I am sure that everyone in the House would condemn them without qualification.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde

In today’s statement the Minister said that we need to offer a political horizon to the Palestinians, and he is asking that while those whose families, friends and neighbours have not already been killed are being bombed out of the shelters they made after being bombed out of their houses and homes. Surely only an immediate permanent ceasefire will afford the people of Palestine the opportunity to lift their eyes to an optimistic political horizon.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The Government have set out a clear vision, together with our partners, which we are seeking to drive forward so that when this catastrophic conflict is over, everyone may focus on that political track. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was after the second intifada that progress at Oslo was made, and we must hope that that might be possible once again. On what is happening in Gaza, I draw his attention to my earlier remarks that it is absolutely appalling that Hamas are cynically using the good people of Gaza as a human shield, as they continue to incarcerate the hostages who should be released today.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I add my voice to those of colleagues who have expressed significant and severe concerns about arms manufacturing and exports to Israel in the current context. I met a number of sole remaining members of Palestinian families who have been wiped out in Gaza. I mention that not to highlight the appalling tragedy but to focus our minds on what it means. One of them had lost all her relatives—more than 50—and is the only one of her family left. To echo the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns, will the Minister reassure us on what he is doing with the international community to ensure that resolution 2728 is applied by Israel and Hamas and that we get aid into this appalling situation?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank the hon. Lady for what she said about the price of conflict in appalling individual suffering. Everyone in the House will agree with her in that respect. On arms export licensing, I have nothing to add to what I said earlier. She will, like many, welcome 2728, because it expresses, with the full authority of the United Nations, a pathway ahead. Britain will do everything it can to make sure that that pathway is pursued.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Israel has widespread control of the borders of Gaza and much of the land within it. Given that is the fact of the situation on the ground, are we not then entitled to assume that the restrictions on the flow of aid into Gaza are deliberate on the part of Israel? Should that not therefore make us review the sale of arms to Israel?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

In terms of the restrictions to which the hon. Gentleman refers, a little earlier I set out how I believe those restrictions can be mitigated, particularly in respect of the opening hours at various crossing points. There is also the need for more visas, some 50 of which I mentioned are pending. He may rest assured that the Government use our very strong relationships in the region with Egypt and Israel to propagate the case for more aid and more humanitarian relief getting in by all means. We also do more than that, because we were dropping food from the air only yesterday, thanks to the work of the Royal Air Force. We will do more of that if we cannot get more in through the road routes.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The Minister will remember that last week, in the previous statement, I mentioned a briefing I had attended with other Members that was led by leading aid organisations, including Oxfam, Islamic Relief and Action Against Hunger. They detailed the scale of the suffering and the scale of the man-made famine. The Minister has been on his feet for more than an hour now, and he has mentioned all the different ways we are getting aid in, but the reality is that only 137 trucks entered Gaza yesterday, according to Oxfam. We know that pre-October it was 500 trucks a day. UNRWA is unmatched in its aid distribution. The Minister has said that. Does the Minister not agree that a way to mitigate this suffering, is to restore the funding to UNRWA now?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The funding to UNRWA from Britain has not stopped; we are paid up effectively until the end of April. Let me reassure the hon. Lady that as soon we have seen the two reports to which I have referred, I very much hope that, subject to the necessary changes being made, we will indeed be able to commit to the future funding that she and I would like to see in the right circumstances.

Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Israel has no intention of complying with international law. It is refusing entry to International Criminal Court investigators; it has flat out denied the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice; it has not adhered to the legally binding orders from the ICJ advisory opinion of 26 February; and, it has ignored other UN resolutions calling for access to humanitarian aid. What else can the Government do to put pressure on Israel to adhere to international law?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

As I have set out previously to the House, we have previously assessed that Israel is committed and capable of complying with international humanitarian law, and that is kept under review. Were there to be any change in the position and view of the British Government in that respect, we would inform the House.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

On that matter, the Government do sometimes publish legal position statements. According to the Cabinet Office, on 11 December 2023 the Government published a statement of the legal position in relation to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, and it published a similar legal position statement when introducing the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in July 2022. Will the Minister publish such a statement setting out any breaches of international law by any parties in the Israel-Gaza war?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman, who is an enormously distinguished lawyer, is well aware that we do not disclose our internal legal advice, and that has consistently been the position of Governments of both the major parties. We have no plans to change that position.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Shadow Minister (Flooding, Oceans and Coastal Communities)

The Minister has repeatedly said that international humanitarian law must be adhered to, but those words are meaningless unless they are followed by action, so what consequences will the British Government introduce for any country found guilty of committing war crimes by the ICC, such as by the deliberate withholding of food and aid to another country?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady invites me to qualify or add to the words I have already used to answer that and similar questions. I am sorry to disappoint her, but I am not going to do so.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

For what will soon be six months, this Government have repeatedly rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire from MPs and aid agencies, so I welcome the changed position taken at the Security Council yesterday. However, I am confused by this insistence that the Government’s position has not changed. Can the Minister clarify that he is calling for an immediate ceasefire, that the UN resolution is binding and must be implemented immediately, and that there are consequences for non-compliance? Any dither and delay, including with UNRWA, means more innocent civilians killed and more children starving.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady is not right in what she says about there being a change in the Government position, for the reasons that I have repeatedly set out. The United Kingdom has long been calling for an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire, and that is what resolution 2728 seeks to deliver.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Nature and Rural Affairs)

I understand what the deputy Foreign Secretary says about wanting both sides to acknowledge United Nations Security Council resolution 2728, but he must know that the people in Gaza facing starvation, going to bed every night wondering whether it will be their last, do not have the power to bring the hostages back. The people who have the power to bring the hostages back are sitting in five-star hotels in Qatar, so it is useless to allow the aid for people in Gaza to be blocked by Israel, and for them to continue to be on the end of a bombardment, while somehow suggesting that they are masters of their own destiny. Will he say what this Government will do in the event that Israel continues to ignore a binding United Nations Security Council resolution?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The remedy for what the hon. Gentleman so eloquently describes in his question rests with Hamas and the negotiators in Qatar. If they release the hostages and a pause is agreed, that will lead to the resolution of all the points that he has so rightly made.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections)

I have heard what the Minister said about not releasing legal advice, which is clearly disappointing for Members in this House. As my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter has already said, the Government have issued legal advice in the past, and this is a matter of great interest to my constituents. If a country took offensive action contrary to a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, I would not need to see the legal advice because that would clearly be a breach of UK arms export licences.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I note that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed that we will not release the advice, but I can only point to the precedent to which I referred earlier—one that has been strongly endorsed on both sides of the House.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

The appalling deaths of children in Gaza have brought condemnation from around the world and, of course, immense psychological trauma to their families and friends. On 27 February, I asked the Minister whether he would recognise that the killing of 12,000 children shows clear evidence of collective punishment. The Minister did not answer my question. That figure has risen with the deaths of a further 1,000 children, so will he now answer my question and recognise that the killing of 13,000 children shows clear evidence of collective punishment?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

No, I will not do that, but I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in calling for Hamas to release all the hostages they are holding as swiftly as possible, so that the other points in the statement, which I hope I have set out clearly to the House, can be achieved.

Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media & Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Housing, Communities & Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (The Constitution and Welsh Affairs)

The deputy Foreign Secretary rightly referred to the devastating and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the urgent need to increase the delivery of aid by land, sea and air. He mentioned that the first delivery of UK aid by the Royal Air Force took place yesterday. Does he anticipate that future air drops will increase in frequency until such time as the barriers to the delivery of aid via land are lifted?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the delivery of aid from the air, for numerous reasons that hon. Members will understand, as suboptimal. The key way of getting urgently needed aid into Gaza is by truck and by road, but needs must, which is why the RAF was able to deliver some 40 tonnes yesterday. If the position continues as it is, Britain expects to get aid into Gaza by sea and air as well as by land.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

The Minister said there was precedent on the non-publication of legal advice. There was a precedent set—you and I were here, Mr Deputy Speaker—in the debate on the Iraq war, when the legal advice was fully published. That was to provide protection for the Government and Members of the House in their deliberations, as well as to provide advice. Does he not appreciate that we now have the Security Council resolution and the ICJ decision, which mean that any actions by a Netanyahu Government against those decisions and that judgment will actually be portrayed as war crimes? Any Government that supply arms to that regime therefore can be equally accused of war crimes, and any Member of the House supporting the Government in those actions is open to that charge as well. Does he not appreciate what Members are saying to him about the rule of law and the importance of the House abiding by the rule of law?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The Government are second to none in seeking to uphold the rule of law, and that point has been consistently reiterated from this Dispatch Box. The right hon. Gentleman raises once again the issue of the Government publishing legal advice and cites in aid the advice published by the then Labour Government in respect of the Iraq war. I do not think that is a wise avenue to go down.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

The Armed Forces Minister has stated that Israeli military personnel have been training alongside UK armed forces. As a result, we clearly want to know what purpose that had, what operations those individuals have been involved in, whether they have impeded the delivery of aid or, indeed, have perpetrated suffering against the people of Gaza, and how that complies with international humanitarian law.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The hon. Lady will not be surprised to hear me say that the British military forces always comply with international humanitarian law and are absolutely required to do so. I am sure she will note, like me, that when it comes to the issue of targeting and military operations, just as Britain uses extensive military lawyers and legal advice in making those decisions, so too do the Israeli Government.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

We desperately need an immediate ceasefire, the immediate release of all hostages and full humanitarian access in Gaza, as the UN Security Council resolution now calls for. I recently met Medical Aid for Palestinians, which talked about the severe difficulties with rules on aid. More widely, we know that aid agencies have reported that the list of goods allowed into Gaza by the Israeli Government is difficult to access and can change without warning. Will the Minister put pressure on the Israeli Government to publish an official list and one that includes all the nutritional and medical aid that is needed?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

The British Government and the department within the Foreign Office that deals with humanitarian aid and planning look all the time at all those matters. The hon. Gentleman raises specifically the issue of medicines, and I hope he will be pleased to see that Britain deployed a field hospital on 15 March funded by UK aid under UK-Med. As I mentioned earlier, UK and local medics will be working there and will be treating—fairly shortly, I hope—100 patients a day.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his statement and his answers. Will he confirm what discussions have taken place and what actions have been agreed to ascertain whether there is any assistance we can provide to ensure that Israel is in a position to safely end the conflict, having achieved security for their nation and their people?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He will know that it is a central aim of Government policy to ensure that both Israel and Palestine can live safely and securely side by side behind secure borders—the implementation of the two-state solution. Everything the Government do is designed to try to advance that objective, which I know he strongly supports.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister repeatedly said that neither has he seen, nor is he in possession of, Catherine Colonna’s interim report, suggesting instead that it had only been delivered to the United Nations in New York. Could he clarify whether he or his officials are in receipt of the interim report, have seen it, have had a read-out of it, or have been made aware of its contents? If any of that is true, why has it not been delivered to the House, particularly given that this is the last sitting day before recess in this financial year? It is hugely important that the House is aware of that.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Mr O’Hara, that is not a point of order for the Chair; it is an endeavour to extend the questions on the statement. If the Minister wishes to respond, I will allow him to do so.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa)

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman. He rightly says that today is the last day before the House rises for the Easter recess. That is why, in discussions with the usual channels, the Government offered this statement today, which I very much hope he welcomes. My understanding is that the interim report from the former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was received by the Secretary-General’s office yesterday. It is my hope and expectation that the British Parliament representative at the United Nations in New York may be able to have sight of it today, but neither I nor officials in London have had sight of the report as things stand.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

On Members’ behalf, I thank the Minister of State and those on the Opposition Front Bench for remaining for well over an hour and taking the relevant questions.