War in Gaza

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 7 May 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)

I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for his urgent question.

We want to see an end to the fighting as soon as possible. Well over six months since Hamas’s terror attack against Israel, it is appalling that the hostages are still being held. Very many civilians are also dying in Gaza, and this weekend Hamas rockets killed four Israeli Defence Forces soldiers and injured others. As we have said, the fastest way to end the conflict is to secure a deal that gets the hostages out and allows for a pause in the fighting in Gaza. We must then turn that pause into a sustainable, permanent ceasefire.

Regarding the situation in Rafah, our position has been consistent. We are deeply concerned about the prospect of a military incursion, given the number of civilians who are sheltering there and the importance of that entry point for aid. Entry points for humanitarian aid, including Kerem Shalom, must be reopened quickly to allow aid in. Israel must facilitate immediate, uninterrupted humanitarian access in the south, especially the entry of fuel, and ensure the protection of civilians and safe passage for those who wish to leave Rafah. As yet, we have not seen a credible plan to protect civilians.

We are, of course, following closely the latest developments on the hostage talks. At this stage, while events are still shifting, I cannot—as the House will understand—provide a detailed running commentary. As the British Government have said, we want to see a deal agreed that would ensure the release of hostages and a pause in the fighting. A generous offer was on the table last week, proposed by Egypt and accepted by Israel. We need to see Hamas accept a viable deal and we can start building the momentum towards a permanent sustained ceasefire.

In parallel, we continue to push as hard as we can to get much-needed aid into Gaza via vital land routes, alongside sea and air, to alleviate the suffering. Israel has now committed to significant steps to increase the amount of aid getting into Gaza. We now need to see that turned into action to ensure that aid actually gets over the border, and that it is safely and properly distributed. We look to Israel to meet its commitments to flood Gaza with aid.

Ultimately, we need a long-term solution to this crisis. This means the release of all hostages; Hamas’s rule dismantled; their ability to attack Israel removed; a new Palestinian Government for the west bank and Gaza; and a political horizon to a two-state solution. Israelis and Palestinians should be able to live together side by side, in peace and security. This is our goal. We will continue working tirelessly to achieve it.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, but I have to say that it is extraordinary that the Government did not come forward with a statement today. This is a profoundly concerning moment in this awful war. Ceasefire negotiations appear to be going backwards. Today the war is not just continuing, but escalating.

Labour has been clear for months that we oppose an offensive in Rafah, which risks catastrophic consequences. The United States has said that it would be a disaster, the European Union has said that the world must prevent it, and the United Nations Security Council has called for an immediate ceasefire. Benjamin Netanyahu is ignoring the warnings of Israel’s allies and partners, the United Kingdom included.

So can the Minister tell me what the consequences will be? We are already seeing the consequences for civilians: airstrikes in densely packed areas; the Rafah crossing—as well as Kerem Shalom, shamelessly attacked by Hamas—now closed; aid reportedly being blocked; and northern Gaza in full-blown famine. Some 1.4 million people are sheltering in Rafah, many of them ordered to go there by the IDF in the first place. Half the children in Gaza are in Rafah. Where can they go to be safe? The French Government said yesterday that the forced displacement of any civilian population is a war crime. Does the Minister agree?

Hamas are a terrorist organisation and their cowardly tactics are reprehensible, but that does not change Israel’s obligation to follow the rules of war, or the Government’s obligations on arms exports, so can the Minister say why he thinks that an attack on Rafah does not present a clear risk of a serious breach of international humanitarian law? Can he also confirm whether he has received any assessment—not legal advice, but any assessment or policy advice—from Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials that the threshold has already been met? Now more than ever, we need an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages and unimpeded aid to 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 shadow Foreign Secretary has set out in eloquent terms what is effectively the policy of the Government and the entire House. He chided the Government for not offering a statement today, but I suggest that the Government have not been slow in coming to the House with frequent statements and responses to urgent questions, and we will of course continue to do so.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Government’s discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, the entire Government have been very clear about our advice to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I have set it out repeatedly in the House. When I last answered questions from the right hon. Gentleman here, I made very clear our position on Rafah as well. He asked about the consequences and how we deal with those. Britain and our allies, through the United Nations—and I remind him that Britain was pivotal in securing Security Council resolutions 2720 and 2728—are working together to try to improve what is a terrible situation, and we will continue to do just that with, I hope, the support of the whole House.

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

I welcome the efforts made by the Foreign Secretary, the Deputy Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Middle East, who have been in and out of the middle east many times over the past two weeks in order to hear from our allies. However, as we see the launch of the Rafah offensive, what reassurances have been received that aid access and, above all, aid workers will be protected? We cannot see the entire aid industry flee from Rafah junction, as is currently being predicted. There is speculation about Al-Mawasi as a safe zone for civilians, but there is no infrastructure in what is essentially a desert, and it was not safe on the last occasion when, as we saw, the British charity Medical Aid for Palestinians was bombed—on which we have still had no answer. Finally, have we had any proof of life for those Israeli citizens who have now been held for seven months? For many, there has been no proof of life since at least Day 20. What are we doing to push for that proof of life, which families so desperately need?

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 is entirely right to make that last point. We do seek proof of life. The families to whom she refers are desperate for information, but that information has not been forthcoming. We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian position in Rafah. Any plan would have to respect international humanitarian law, and we have yet to see such a plan. The immediate priority, as I set out in my opening remarks, must be a humanitarian pause in the fighting. As the House well knows, such a pause would allow us, potentially, to get the hostages out, but also to get aid into Gaza.

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

A week ago from that Dispatch Box, the Minister said:

“Given the number of civilians sheltering in Rafah, it is not easy to see how such an offensive could be compliant with international humanitarian law”.—[Official Report, 30 April 2024;
Vol. 749, c. 141.]

Despite repeated appeals for Israel not to attack Rafah, just hours after the dashed hopes of a ceasefire, that offensive is happening. Is this the breach of international humanitarian law you referred to last week, and will that breach immediately end UK sales of arms to Israel? Or is this yet another example of the UK declaring a red line only for Israel to completely ignore it without condemnation or consequence? We know how this plays out, Minister. You plead with them, they ignore you, they do what they want and you find excuses for them. A blind eye will be turned to the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, and while the UK Government call for more aid to the survivors, they will continue to issue arms export licences. That has been the pattern of behaviour for seven months. Can we expect anything different 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)

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, he will know that we are working flat out in these very difficult circumstances to achieve something different, and we will continue to do so. He quoted what I said the last time I was at the Dispatch Box, and I would point out that the words I have used today, in answering the same question, are virtually exactly the same. I have made it clear that there would have to be a plan that respected international humanitarian law, and we have not yet seen such a plan. That is entirely consistent with what I said before.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the sale of arms. The Foreign Secretary announced on 9 April that the British position with regard to export licences is unchanged. We do not publish the Government’s legal advice, but we always act in accordance with it. I would point out that we publish data on export licensing decisions transparently and on a quarterly basis.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman Conservative, Fareham

Yesterday I met survivors of the Nova festival massacre—people who had fought singlehandedly for hours in Israel on 7 October against brutal Hamas terrorists. We all want peace, and we all want to see the end of civilian fatalities, but sometimes countries must fight for peace. Israel has a right to defend herself and a duty to protect her people from the brutal terrorist cult of Hamas. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will maintain steadfast and resolute support for Israel as she finishes the job of eliminating Hamas from 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 very pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend had the chance to meet those survivors yesterday, so that she can share with the House the hideous circumstances that they suffered. She makes it clear that Israel has the right of self-defence, and she set out eloquently why that is the case. But Israel must also abide by international humanitarian law.

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

I say to the Minister, if I may, “You’re better than this.” We all condemn Hamas’s attack and we all want to see the hostages released, but we are on the edge of witnessing a massacre, a mass murder of innocent men, women and children at the behest of fanatical zealots in the Israeli Cabinet. We need this Government to lead an international exercise to prevent this attack now. One way to prevent it is to make it clear to Netanyahu that if it goes ahead, this Government will pursue him as a war criminal at the international courts.

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 right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the Government are working with their allies, with the powers in the region and through the United Nations precisely to ensure that that does not happen. He also knows that the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and other Ministers who are in close contact with the Israeli Government have made it absolutely clear what the effects of a military campaign conducted within the small confines of Rafah, where so many people are kettled, would be. I have made very clear from this Dispatch Box the view of the Government in that respect.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

A couple of days ago, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, an Israeli commander reminded his men that on that day 80 years ago, the Nazis led Jews to the ovens for the sole crime of being Jewish. On 7 October, at dawn on a public holiday, Hamas and their supporters invaded Israel and murdered 1,200 more Jewish people, including children, and raped, dismembered and tortured people—and yes, they put one baby, alive, in an oven to murder it. They took dozens of hostages, and still have many in savage confinement of a medieval nature.

Many voices put pressure on Israel to do what they believe Israel should do. Does the Minister agree that more pressure needs to be put on Hamas to do what they should do—what any civilised human being would call for—which is to release the hostages and stop attacking aid points? One such aid point was attacked at the weekend, killing four Israeli soldiers—an aid point that, by the way, British aid comes through. They are silent about that, with every focus on Israel and none on Hamas.

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. and learned Friend makes an important point. I want to emphasise to him, but also to the House, that the hostages are not an afterthought. They are at the very centre of this—there are more than 130, including women and children, and a holocaust survivor. The Government are trying to strike a balance. There is an urgent requirement for a pause in all the fighting to enable aid to get in and to negotiate the hostages out, which might then lead, as a process, to a sustainable ceasefire, which is what we are trying to achieve.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

I think we all want an immediate ceasefire, and as we see the start of the destruction of Rafah and the impact that it will have on the civilian population, we are horrified. I want to ask the Minister a practical question that might get us a step further. How optimistic is he that a sufficient number of hostages will be released to ensure that agreement between the two sides can be reached and that Israel will then accept an immediate 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)

The right hon. Lady, who speaks with authority and understanding on these matters, will know that the question she has asked me is at the heart of the negotiations, which still continue, and which we very much hope will be successful. As I have said before, I cannot give the House a running commentary on those negotiations, but I can assure her that the logic she brings to this debate does inform the Government’s support for getting a resolution to those negotiations.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Over the past few months, Members from all parts of the House have questioned the Deputy Foreign Secretary on the notion of consequences, and we have heard that again today. He is an experienced Minister, so he knows that every equivocation, every hesitation and every set of diplomatic niceties has led us to this calamitous moment for the hostages, for the Palestinian people and for the interests of both peoples in the long term. On 7 April, the Foreign Secretary said that support for Israel was not unconditional. I shall ask the question in a different way: is there any red line? Is there anything the Israeli Government could do that would so appal this Government that they would feel the need to act? If so, what is 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)

My right hon. Friend talks about the calamitous situation that we have reached, and no one in the House will forget that it started on 7 October with the brutal events that my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Ellis just described. My right hon. Friend asks me a rhetorical question, but the evidence will show that the Government have done everything we possibly can to try to alleviate the situation, sometimes unpopularly, and that our logic was accepted at the United Nations in the two Security Council resolutions that I mentioned.

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

The Israeli Opposition leader Yair Lapid said at the weekend:

“A government that wants to return the abductees” would be

“sending the teams to Cairo, not…crushing the hearts of the families.”

Lapid is right, but it is not only the hearts of the hostages’ families that are being crushed; it is those of the Palestinians who want nothing to do with Hamas terrorists. Many of them are being chased around the Gaza strip. The UK rightly defends Israel from the threat of attack by Iran, but will the British Government also suspend 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)

On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, he will have seen that both sides have sent teams to Cairo, and we await developments on that with a degree of hope and optimism. On his second point, I have made it clear to the House where the Government stand on arms exports. We follow the legal advice—we do not publish it, in accordance with precedent—and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East

Members have said that the situation in Rafah needs to come to an end, but what needs to come to an end is the fighting. UNICEF has said today that Rafah is a city of children, and we should not be dancing around the issue or playing with words as though it were a game of Scrabble. We should call this what it is and call for an immediate ceasefire. Families of hostages want the fighting to end now, and my constituents in Bolton demand that it does. The international community is demanding an immediate stop. We are one of the most influential countries on the conflict, so will the United Kingdom call for an immediate end to the fighting?

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 my hon. Friend for keeping in touch with me on issues that are brought to his attention by his constituents. As he knows, it is exactly the Government’s policy to try to achieve that pause, which can then lead to a sustainable ceasefire. We will continue to do everything we can to achieve that.

Photo of Julie Elliott Julie Elliott Labour, Sunderland Central

What is the Government’s plan to get aid into Gaza now that both Rafah and Kerem Shalom are inaccessible? Even if they were accessible, with an invasion now started there would be no way to distribute aid. What is the Government’s plan to get aid in to alleviate the appalling suffering of the Palestinian 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)

The hon. Lady is right to identify that yesterday, Rafah and Kerem Shalom were shut with no aid able to get in. That is a matter of immense concern to the Government. She will know that as well as trying to get aid in ourselves by road transport, we have been a leading nation in assisting with the maritime route and with airdrops. Some 11 airdrops have been made, 10 of them by the Royal Air Force.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Constituents are understandably devastated by what is happening in Gaza right now, which is desperate for those on both sides. I am conscious of what the Minister has just said about aid being distributed, but will he ensure that all the resources possible are there to enable us to carry on with maritime delivery and airdrops? Does he agree that ultimately, it is in Hamas’s hands to return the hostages and remove any excuse for further actions in Gaza by 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)

We will certainly continue to boost the maritime efforts, which, as my right hon. Friend knows, are ongoing using both British military assets and our stores in the region, particularly in Cyprus, as well as technology for clearing the kit that is available there. We will continue to do everything we can in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, as we have been, to achieve greater entry of aid into Gaza.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

The real concern now is that Netanyahu has one objective, which is to raze Gaza to the ground. That is what he is intent on doing, and it will include Rafah. This Government, along with all other western Governments, have told the Israelis that they must not go into Rafah. I ask the Minister once again: what are the consequences if they do? Will it be a slap on the wrist and a “Don’t do it again”, or is serious consideration being given to banning the sale of arms and to sanctioning individuals and the Israeli Government collectively? What are the Government going to do? Are they going to do anything at all?

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 made it very clear what the Government are seeking to do. The hon. Gentleman has outlined what Prime Minister Netanyahu is saying, but there are many different voices in Israel, as we have seen this weekend, including significant demonstrations in support of the policy of getting the hostages back. Britain is doing everything it can to help achieve that.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

For me, the defining feature of this appalling tragedy in Gaza is that the civilian population is trapped between the oppression of an appalling terrorist organisation and an appalling military onslaught. Given the increasing compression of that population within Rafah, in a much smaller geographical area, the need for precision, restraint and proportionality from the Israelis is ever more acute. Will the Minister please assure the House that he is doing everything possible to convince the Israelis of the need to preserve the sanctity of human life?

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 will know that the Government have repeatedly underlined the importance of Israel abiding by international humanitarian law. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have underlined that point in their frequent contacts.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

Despite the blatant disregard that we have seen for international law over the last few weeks, the international community has warned that the Israeli ground offensive in Rafah will be a red line. Even the Deputy Foreign Secretary told this House last week that he could not

“see how such an offensive could be compliant with international humanitarian law”.—[Official Report, 30 April 2024;
Vol. 749, c. 140-41.]

With Israeli troops now ready to move into the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camp, where 1.4 million people sit starving and fearful for the lives of their children, I have to ask the Minister just why he did not come to the House today to announce a strong UK response that immediately supports the International Criminal Court’s war crimes investigation and immediately ends arms sales to Israel.

Frankly, it is shameful that the Government have again come to the House with nothing. Will the Minister please answer the question that we have all come to hear answered? What are the UK Government doing to stop the bloodshed and the massacre that are about to happen hours from now 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)

On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, there is no difference between what I have said today and the response I gave on the last occasion I was at the Dispatch Box, to which he refers. He sets out, in eloquent tones, the nature of the problem we face, but he must recognise that Britain, along with a large number of regional powers, the international community and the UN, is trying to stop the very position he sets out.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

Seven months ago today, many of us began receiving the most alarming messages from friends and/or family in Israel. By the end of that day, every red line of international law had been breached by the monstrous Palestinian terrorists who raped countless women, murdered 1,200 people and took hundreds of innocent people hostage.

Within hours, people in this country, and some pro-Palestinian activists, were on the streets cheering what happened that day. Since then, we have seen the dehumanisation of Jews through the dehumanisation of Israel. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” has been dusted off and every antisemitic trope has been trotted out. Some people in this House, whom we would have expected to be allies when it comes to gender-based violence, have had little or nothing to say about the horrors of that day.

Now, we hear calls for Israel to be denied the right to defend itself, while arms continue to flow to Hamas from Iran and North Korea. There is nothing kind or compassionate about that message. Will the Deputy Foreign Secretary confirm to me that any ceasefire, which we all want because we all want this tragedy to end, will include the complete removal of Hamas from governance 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)

My hon. Friend is right in what he says. The rightful aim of defeating Hamas will not be achieved by allowing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, as I am sure he would agree. He mentions gender-based violence; he will recognise that the Government have supplied funding particularly to try to tackle aspects of that, where we are able to make a contribution and have some impact. On what he says about the nature of some of what has been said in this House and outside, the Government make it very clear that we are absolutely opposed to antisemitism and Islamophobia in all their forms.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

Last October, the Israeli Defence Minister disgracefully described the Palestinian people as “animals”, and that is exactly how Israel has treated them, forcibly displacing men, women, and children from the north to the south of Gaza and now forcibly displacing people again, slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians and creating famine conditions. Now there is the risk of a massacre. What we are witnessing this week is a clear escalation of Israel’s total disregard for civilian life and international law. We need an immediate ceasefire, but will the Minister finally agree to impose stringent sanctions on Israel, not simply on individual settlers, by ending support for its military capability in Gaza, suspending arms export licences and offering support for ICJ and ICC processes investigating Israel’s criminal actions? Where is our humanity?

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)

She shakes her head, but the fact is that the Government are doing everything they can, as we have set out—the Foreign Secretary has set it out, the Prime Minister has set it out and I have set it out from this Dispatch Box—to try to effect the change that she and I so desperately wish to see.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

I welcome the Minister’s statement with regard to the United Kingdom supporting the people of Gaza with humanitarian aid. The Minister knows that I have written to the Foreign Secretary asking that the United Kingdom hosts an international donors conference for Palestine, as it did with the international Friends of Syria group, which was the largest convening of humanitarian donors at a conference held in the United Kingdom. I understand that the Foreign Secretary thought that it was a good idea, so where is the UK in leading the way in setting up an international donors conference for Palestine?

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 is right to identify a political horizon that is constructive; when this ghastly fighting is over, we hope that people will lift their eyes to a political horizon. Britain is doing a lot of work to try to support that opportunity when it comes, and at that point there may well be a role for Britain in the international community to convene something of that sort.

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

The invasion of Rafah by the Israeli army comes alongside further discoveries of more than 390 bodies in mass graves at the al-Shifa and Nasser hospitals, with the UN confirming evidence of torture, summary executions and instances of people being buried alive and others buried with intravenous needles still in their arms. At the most recent Foreign Office questions, the Deputy Foreign Secretary said that it would be hard to see how an invasion of Rafah would not be in breach of international humanitarian law. Given what I have just outlined, do the UK Government finally consider the invasion of Rafah to be a breach of international humanitarian law—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)

Alas, such questions are not susceptible to yes or no answers. We have made absolutely clear our view about an invasion of Rafah. The full reality of the specific incidents the hon. Gentleman mentions is not clear. We need to recognise, as the British Government have made clear, that full and transparent investigations of those matters is required.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Hamas have apparently said to mediators that they do not have 33 living hostages who fall into the categories of women, children, elderly and sick. That is an appalling body blow for the relatives of those held captive in Gaza for more than 200 days. Will the Deputy Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to acknowledge Israel’s right to take military action to get those people home?

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 is absolutely right to focus on the awful plight of the hostages, as she has done repeatedly in this House. She is also right to make it clear that, under international law, Israel has the right to self-defence and to take proportionate action to recover hostages.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Defence)

Like many others, I pray that pressure from this House and elsewhere can bring this conflict to an end, but we all know that that will require agreement on an Arab-led body to maintain peace, order and security. How close are we to that agreement?

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 absolutely right to try to lift people’s eyes to the political horizon so that from this intolerable misery can come hope for the future. A great deal of work is going on to pinpoint and augment the sinews of such a political future. The Foreign Secretary has been in the region repeatedly—especially on the west bank and in Ramallah. We will continue to do everything we can to plan for that, alongside trying to resolve the desperate situation in Rafah, on which I have tried to set out to the House what Britain is doing.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

The Deputy Foreign Secretary reminds us that we are now in the seventh month. Talks are not making progress, the hostages still have not been released and border crossings are closing; we are entering another dark chapter in this terrible conflict. The UN World Food Programme warns of a full-blown famine unless more aid can be delivered. This House is asking what we can do, so will the Deputy Foreign Secretary update us on the building of that new maritime port off Gaza? That is something that the international community can control, of which we can have full stakeholder ownership. Once it is operational, will British troops be involved in aid delivery?

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 my right hon. Friend’s final point, we will have to see what is required. Securing the temporary pier off the coast of Gaza is a way of getting additional aid in swiftly. He will know that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay is in the area, and is effectively the command post for this maritime effort. Britain is also thoroughly involved, just as it is from the air and from land, in detail in the maritime effort.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Labour, Manchester, Gorton

The UK Government have long warned Israel that an invasion of Rafah must not happen. Civilian lives must be protected and aid must enter Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu has shown once again that he is not listening to his allies or the ICJ, and that he is hellbent on turning the whole of Gaza into a graveyard. Will the UK Government urgently impose a full arms embargo on Israel, which is the only thing the UK can do to try to stop the starvation and potential genocide of those left in Rafah?

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 early part of the hon. Gentleman’s question set out what we are all trying to address. On an arms embargo, he will know that the amount of arms that Britain supplies is negligible. Equally, we operate an arms sales regime that is strictly governed by the rules that I have previously set out to the House. We act in line with the legal advice we receive, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

Of course I am greatly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza right now, but I am also greatly concerned that nothing happens that gives Hamas an increased foothold in Gaza and puts them in a position to inflict more evil and misery, like that we saw on 7 October. I am also concerned that some of the proposed ceasefire agreements seem to involve releasing hundreds of Hamas terrorists and do not involve all of the hostages being released. Will the Deputy Foreign Secretary give me a commitment that we will intensify plans for a Hamas-free Gaza, so that innocent people in Gaza can look forward with hope to a future of peace?

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 is absolutely right that Hamas can have no role in Gaza in the future. Much of the work we are doing in that respect is designed to help to build up the Palestinian Authority, so that it can be involved in governing both the west bank and Gaza, as soon as the time is right.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Workers Party, Rochdale

The Deputy Foreign Secretary’s answers today are virtually identical to those he gave, including to me, last Tuesday. The situation has escalated, but the Government’s response remains the same. There are 600,000 child hostages in Rafah alone. There is no proof of life from them, but millions of our people are watching on their phones today the proof of death and mutilation of many of them. The Government say they are doing everything they can, but they are not. You could now stop sending weapons to the people who are raining down this death and misery, and the Labour party could ask you to do that, but did not.

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 says that the answers I gave to him and others last Tuesday are the same. Those answers reflect, in so far as the parameters of the situation are the same, the fact that we are pursuing long-term policies designed to tackle the evils that have been set out so clearly this afternoon in the House. He also makes a point about the number of children who are denied food and medicine in Rafah. He will know that through medical aid and the British contribution, not least through a field hospital, Britain has been careful to ensure that where we can bring medical help, particularly to children, we are doing so.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The 130-plus hostages have now been held for 214 days, in barbaric conditions, subject to rape and torture, and denied medical access from the International Red Cross. The sad reality is that Israel put a deal on the table that could have led to there being a ceasefire right now, in return for the release of some—not all—of the hostages and of Palestinian prisoners who have been convicted in courts of law. Secretary Blinken described that as an “extraordinarily generous” offer, yet Hamas refuse to accept it. Does my right hon. Friend take the view that Hamas have it in their power to accept the position of a ceasefire, so that the violence and war can come to an end naturally as a result?

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 that my hon. Friend makes, which has been echoed in different ways across the House, is that we must ensure we do everything we can to make certain that the negotiations that are taking place at the moment in Cairo make progress and are successful. That is what everyone should be hoping can be achieved tonight.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Labour, Birmingham, Yardley

What I think the Deputy Foreign Secretary has been saying to us today is that we have not seen a credible plan for evacuation from Rafah, and that there is currently an incursion into Rafah. If I add those two things up, what he is saying, between the lines, is that Israel has currently breached the rule that the UK has set. I do not think he wants to say it here, but that is what I am hearing. If there is no credible plan to move those people and the attack is ongoing, when can we expect, if not today, an update from the Dispatch Box on the UK’s position towards Israel, arms sales and other things that have been mentioned?

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 given the hon. Lady the update from the Dispatch Box, in so far as there is an update to give. She asks me about the words that we are using in respect of Rafah. I have made it clear that we have not seen a credible plan for military action in Rafah so far, so we are not able to judge whether it would be in accordance with international humanitarian law, and that is the point that I have been making to the House.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds

Israel is our friend and ally, but that does not stop us questioning its actions. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Foreign Secretary says that he wants to see much more aid getting into Gaza. The actions in Gaza over the weekend have only made those miles-long queues of lorries even greater. Air and sea drops are difficult. Will he today, on behalf of the Government, appeal to our allies to allow those in those miles-long queues in Rafah to rapidly go into Gaza and relieve the suffering of the people there?

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 continually appeal for more aid getting in by road. We have made arrangements for maritime entry, and entry from the air, but getting aid in through entry points on the road system is, by miles, the best way. I said at the outset of my remarks that we were very concerned indeed about the fact that no aid got in through Rafah or Kerem Shalom yesterday. We are doing everything we can, as we have been since the start of this crisis, to ensure that more aid is getting in, and we will continue to do so.

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

The pro-Hamas network of the press, politicians and protesters is becoming increasingly hysterical in its efforts to stop Israel pursuing those who carried out the pogrom of murder, rape, torture and hostage-taking last October. Does the Minister accept that if there is to be long-term peace in the middle east, we must continue to support Israel—in its battle against Hamas, in defending itself, and in pursuing those who cynically hide behind innocent civilians today, and tomorrow use their death as a propaganda weapon?

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 right hon. Gentleman makes the point that Israel has the right to self-defence, but I am sure that he would accept that it must be exercised within international humanitarian law.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent Central

Minister, what does “finish the job” mean, with 40,000 people dead, many of whom are children? Is it finished when every single man, woman, child and baby is dead in Gaza? Is that what “finish the job” means? The Government said that the invasion of Rafah would not comply with international law. The Minister says that we do not supply that many arms to Israel, but if we were to stop even that supply, would it not send the message that our Government abide by, and believe in the importance 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)

I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that although the Government do not publish the legal advice that they receive, they always act in accordance with it.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

My constituent Emily Fares has family in Gaza. Here is her message:

“We heard from our family yesterday, half of them have now fled Rafah after threatening evacuation orders fell from the sky. When we spoke to them they did not know where they were going—they mentioned al-Mawasi, but there is no building for them to stay, it is not safe there. There are no food provisions there. There is nowhere to go to the toilet, nowhere to wash. They are now utterly destitute.”

Forced displacement is a war crime. The Minister’s Government have it in their power to set up a scheme for people desperate to join family in the UK. If not now, when?

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 right hon. Lady sets out the heart-rending reports that she has received. That is why the Government, with as much vigour and co-operation with our allies as possible, are trying to do the things that I have set out.

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

The initial Israeli offence in Rafah began last night, and it has been described as “limited”. An operation is not limited if it results in the evacuation and forced displacement of around 100,000 people. An operation is not limited if it results in all crossings being closed, and humanitarian aid being completely halted. The House cannot downplay the significance of what is happening. The Minister said that the Government are doing everything they can, but will he make it clear from the Dispatch Box that the Government do not support this offensive, and that there must be consequences under international law if it goes ahead?

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 made it absolutely clear that we have yet to see a plan in respect of any military operations in Rafah, but we have always made it clear that any such plans must abide by international humanitarian law.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

For months, the Minister has come to the Dispatch Box and told us that the Government are asking the Israeli Government to do this, or requesting that the Israeli Government do that. The harsh truth is that Israel is ignoring the UK Government, and that our Government now need to act. Words are not enough; we need action to show that there are consequences for breaching international law. The Government must act now by ending arms sales and suspending the trade talks, because if they do not do what is necessary and take action to help prevent the attack on Rafah, will the Israeli Government not see that as our Government giving them the green light to commit yet more war crimes?

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 have seen what the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have said, and how we are working with our allies and countries in the region to try to improve the situation. He will know, as the whole House knows, that there is no magic solution. We have to persist with the arguments and the logic that are so clearly set out in United Nations Security Council resolutions 2720 and 2728, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Anum Qaisar Anum Qaisar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

Over the past seven months, I and many other Members across this House have come to the Chamber to gain an understanding of what the red lines are for the UK Government, but it feels like there are not many. It felt like it was not a red line when babies in Gaza were removed from the wombs of their dead mothers. It felt like it was not a red line when children in Gaza looked up to the sky, not knowing whether aid or bombs were going to drop on them. Now, in Rafah, displaced refugees once again face the threat of forcible transfer, and again it does not feel like this is a red line. Given that there is precedent for halting arms sales to Israel, will the UK Government finally halt those sales? If not, can the Deputy Foreign Secretary please explain to us what cost is associated with a Palestinian life? What are the red lines? What does Benjamin Netanyahu have to do that is too much?

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 case that the hon. Lady makes should encourage everyone—the Government, but everyone else as well—to do everything they can to bring an end to this catastrophic conflict, which is causing such pain to so many.

Photo of Khalid Mahmood Khalid Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Perry Barr

I will start as I always do: I condemn Hamas, and I think all refugees on both sides should be returned, but the attack on Rafah has started. The escalation of humanitarian disaster and catastrophe continues, in contravention of international law. There has been too much hand-wringing and making of excuses. We have to call it what it is: we stand here while people are starving and children are dying of malnutrition, and while there is no support for civilians in the area. The case has been made for hostages to be released; what will happen when Rafah is bombed? What will happen to those Israeli hostages? This policy is doomed from the start. Will the Deputy Foreign Secretary call for a ceasefire now and move forward?

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 know that the Government have consistently sought a pause, so that the hostages can get out and aid can get in, and have worked tirelessly, I would argue, to try to ensure that aid does get in, including by inventing new ways of trying to achieve that. He started his question by pointing out that an attack had started in Rafah, but he will also know that negotiations are proceeding in Cairo, and we must hope that those negotiations are successful as quickly as possible.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Shadow Minister (Wales)

With nowhere safe for Palestinians to go, and overcrowding in places such as al-Mawasi, I ask again: where exactly do the UK Government think Palestinians displaced from eastern Rafah should go next? If the Deputy Foreign Secretary has no answer, why does the Government’s response remain the same?

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 repeatedly made clear, we think that there needs to be a pause in the fighting that can, as I have expressed on numerous occasions in the House, lead to a sustainable ceasefire.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian

Is it not time to recognise that Israel’s actions are not a disproportionate response to 7 October, but in fact part of a concerted plan to make Gaza unliveable, and to extirpate the Palestinian population there, while encroaching on Palestinian territories in the occupied west bank? As a result, is it not time that we ceased arms sales, stopped being complicit in Israel’s military actions, reinstated United Nations Relief and Works Agency aid, and joined other nations in condemning this dreadful genocide?

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 said to the House before, I do not think it is helpful to use terms such as “genocide”. It is important that the House recognises that the findings of the International Court of Justice have been misrepresented in that respect. Joan Donoghue, a former president of the ICJ who was still serving at the time of the preliminary decision, stated that the ICJ

“did not decide that the claim of genocide was plausible”.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Shadow Minister (Investment and Small Business)

The Minister talks about a pause; the United Nations voted for a resolution calling for a ceasefire. The Minister is now talking about looking at Israeli military plans for Gaza, when the international community has thus far made it clear that there should not be an invasion of Gaza. It feels as if he is going backwards. His Government have so far failed to restore UNRWA funding, which is making the matter and the misery worse. He has failed to take action to ensure that the Government support the implementation of the ICJ’s provisional measures and the International Criminal Court investigation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He has a good track record, but he is failing us by taking us backwards on this important issue. When will he take action on those specific 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 recognise the early part of the hon. Lady’s question, but let me assure her, as I have assured the House in the past, that we are doing everything we can to address the dreadful situation that she has so eloquently articulated.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

The Minister’s reply on 17 April to my written question referred to wanting

“to see Israel take greater care to limit its operations to military targets”.

Can he confirm that he is finally aware that Israel has not limited its onslaught to military targets? Given that the Government’s own licensing criteria refer to the

“risk that the items might be used to…facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law…or serious acts of violence against women or children”,

how can continuing to arm Israel in its bombardment of Palestinian civilians possibly be justified?

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 refers to a number of early incidents, which have been condemned. She will know that, in respect of each of those incidents, the Government have said that we want an independent and credible investigation and transparent conclusions, so that we know why and how those acts took place.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Chair, Business and Trade Committee, Chair, Business and Trade Committee, Chair, Business and Trade Sub-Committee on National Security and Investment, Chair, Business and Trade Sub-Committee on National Security and Investment

The Minister has said that the policy has not changed, but the facts on the ground have. Ordering the evacuation of 100,000 people is not a small operation; it is big one. He knows that the clear test for suspending arms sales is a clear risk of a breach of humanitarian law, but he has told the House this afternoon that he has no assurances that that breach is impossible because he has not seen a plan. Can he tell the House what advice he has given the Department for Business and Trade, and when, about its legal obligation to suspend arms sales now? Will he lay that out for us this afternoon, before he gives evidence to the Select Committee on Business and Trade on 21 May?

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 on arms sales and legal advice is clear, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware. He knows that we always follow carefully the legal advice, although we do not publish it, and we always act in accordance with it. He will also know that, in the light of that legal advice, as the Foreign Secretary announced on 9 April, the UK position with regard to export licences remains unchanged.

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

Gaza is bleeding and Gaza is starving. At least 34,700 people are dead, the majority of them women and children, while a man-made famine continues to take hold. How much further do things need to escalate before this Government finally take action, restore UNRWA funding and—finally—call for an immediate 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)

The hon. Member raises the issue of UNRWA, which was also raised by his hon. Friend Rushanara Ali and I should have responded on that point. Britain is currently in a position of not owing any money to UNRWA, we have said that we are considering the Colonna report and we are waiting for the Office of Internal Oversight Services report. In due course, we will come to the House to tell it the decision we have made, but it is important to recognise that at the current time Britain is fully paid up in respect of UNRWA’s money and work.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

More than 14,500 children have been killed in Gaza. Is the Minister proud that the UK continues to sell arms for use in this action?

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 proud that Britain is doing everything it can and that the Government are bending every sinew to try to resolve this desperate situation and to make sure that we get aid into Gaza—“flood” Gaza with aid, as the Israeli Government have promised—but also get out the hostages, whose families have suffered so much since the appalling pogrom on 7 October.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

The Deputy Foreign Secretary has said that he is still waiting to see the military plans from Israel in relation to Rafah, but we are all watching the consequences of the execution of those plans, which is already under way. Part of what we have seen overnight has been the very deliberate destruction of any signage that describes the territory as Gaza, and the taking down of Palestinian flags and replacing them with Israeli flags. That is not necessary in any way to neutralise any security threat. Has he asked Israel what it is doing and why it has done that, and can he give me one example of a consequence now that this red line has been crossed?

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 continue to make it clear to Israel that it should not in these circumstances be conducting military operations in Rafah until there is a proper plan that ensures it stands by its duties and responsibilities under international humanitarian law.

Photo of Feryal Clark Feryal Clark Shadow Minister (Crime Reduction)

Thousands of children killed, hostages not released, Israel accused of war crimes, global outrage at Israel’s conduct and Hamas very much in being—this is how not to fight a war. Even war has rules, so given the number of civilians sheltering in Rafah, can the Minister make it clear that the UK Government do not support the Rafah offensive?

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 made it crystal clear where the Government stand on the issue of any Rafah offensive, and we will continue to do everything we can—as I have clearly, I hope, set out to the House—to bring about an urgent resolution of this extraordinarily difficult and catastrophic situation.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

In recent months, Israeli forces in Gaza have been responsible for the killing of aid workers, medics and journalists, including British citizens among them, and they have been responsible for the targeting of civilian infrastructure. In these circumstances, what possible basis can there be in law for continuing to supply weapons 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 decisions on weapons licences are not made across the Floor of the House, nor are they made on the basis of emotion. They are made on the basis of the rules clearly set down. They are governed by the advice that we receive from lawyers, and we act in accordance with that advice.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

The 1.4 million displaced people kettled in the south of the Gaza strip, precisely where they were told to go, are now facing mass starvation—a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding before our eyes. The Rafah offensive cannot and must not be allowed to happen. The Deputy Foreign Secretary says that he is yet to see a plan, credible or not. But a plan clearly exists if the Israeli authorities are asking 100,000 people to move. Given that he has not been clear to the House on consequences or advice from officials, if there is a breach of international law, at which point are the British Government also complicit?

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 made it clear that all countries, and Israel in this conflict, must abide by international humanitarian law. The hon. Member will be well aware that there are consequences for not abiding by international humanitarian law. Britain stands by its own international commitments in that respect, and expects others to do likewise.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

The Minister said that we have not seen a credible plan to protect civilians. That has been the case since the shameful atrocities of 7 October. Seven months on and 35,000 deaths on, we get the same lip service and the same drivel about urging Israel to follow international law, all while those on the Labour Front Bench gave them political cover. The UK shamefully continues to send arms to Israel, so if this is found to be a genocide, as I think it will be, and Netanyahu therefore a war criminal, this Government and therefore this country will be complicit, will they not?

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. Member uses lurid language, and he should recognise what the Government are seeking to do, together with our allies in the region and internationally, and support the Government in that endeavour.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

I want the Deputy Foreign Secretary to imagine that he was in Rafah. If bombs were being dropped on his family and there was no safe place for them to go, I am sure that he would want Governments such as ours to use every available lever to stop the attacks and that he would rightly expect to receive protection. So why is it different for Palestinians? What will it take for this Government to call for an immediate ceasefire, stop arms sales to Israel and hold Netanyahu to account for his war crimes?

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. Member is right to set out the jeopardy of the families that she describes in Rafah. That is why, on so many different fronts, the Government, along with their allies, are trying to bring about a resolution to these matters. The fact that so far we have not been fully successful in that endeavour should not deter us from continuing to try to do the right thing in those respects.

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

The Minister raises concerns about misrepresentation, so let us be clear: those protesting in Israel in support of the hostages were protesting against Netanyahu and his approach in Rafah. That was not the impression that the Minister gave. Those protesters and hostage families recognise, as does this House, that military action in Rafah, the man-made famine, and the displacement of 100,000 people to a place where they are trying to put tents up in rubble, is not going to lead to the release of hostages or to the two-state solution. It will probably lead to further war crimes. The UK cannot sit this out, so will the Minister at least be honest? He will not tell us why he will not suspend arms sales. Will he tell us whether our intelligence shows that to date British-made weapons and technology have been used in Rafah—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)

The hon. Member asks me at the beginning of her question about the extensive demonstrations that have been seen in Israel. She is right about that, which is why I said in an earlier answer that there was a plurality of views in Israel, many of which do not coincide with the views of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

There is nowhere safe for people in Rafah. There is no relief for people in northern Gaza who are starving as aid is being choked off again. The situation in Gaza is intolerable and there are clear breaches of international law. None of that serves the cause of peace or hastens the release of the hostages. So I ask the Deputy Foreign Secretary, who has been short on detail today: where is the accountability and, specifically, what actions is he taking to ensure the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution requiring a ceasefire and the ICJ interim judgment?

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 clarified one aspect of the ICJ interim judgment, which I hope is helpful to the House. In respect of the details that the hon. Member says are lacking today, I put to her and the House that we have been very open and clear about what we expect to happen. We have argued, and we have used our money and our influence diplomatically to make progress in this matter, and we will continue to do so.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The Deputy Foreign Secretary knows that international law applies to all, or it matters to none. He speaks of the right of self-defence, and the House would agree with that, but what we have seen is far beyond self-defence. Outside of all the noise around that day, on 21 February, this House set out its position and said in black and white—no ifs, no buts—that we do not support the offensive into Rafah. That is the position of this House as we stand here today. Given what he has said, it is clear that he does not believe that an offensive into Rafah would be within international law, so is he in that circumstance content with UK-supplied arms being used in that offensive? If not, what will he do 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)

I have made clear where the Government stand in respect of arms sales. There is a strong precedent for how we handle these issues, which certainly was pursued by the Opposition when they were in government. We will continue to operate in precisely the way I have set out to the House in the future.

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

The consequences of Israel’s Rafah offensive for the Palestinians are absolutely clear: death, destruction, starvation and disease on a scale even greater than the horrors we have already witnessed. It beggars belief that the Deputy Foreign Secretary comes to this House and cannot set out any consequences for Israel from that offensive. We are here because our constituents hold us to account for what is happening in Gaza. Why does he refuse to hold Israel to account for what is happening there?

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 recognise the hon. Member’s description on the question of accountability. We have been very clear on accountability in this House to all sides in this appalling conflict, and we will continue to be so.

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The first thing that aid workers returning from Gaza talk about is the smell, because there are rivers of sewage in Gaza at the moment. The assault on Rafah means displacing people from a place with very poor sanitation to a place with no sanitation and catastrophic health outcomes. Only UNWRA can provide the sanitation needs at scale to solve this. The EU, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Japan and Sweden have all restored funding to UNWRA. The Deputy Foreign Secretary has talked about the zero sum with UNWRA, but funding needs to be fully restored and increased to stop this health and sanitation catastrophe. Why will the Government not increase funding to UNWRA?

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 made clear the process that the Government are going through in respect of our future commitments to UNWRA. I have also made clear that, as far as the current situation is concerned, we have fully funded and met our commitments to UNWRA, and we will make decisions when we have completed our review of the Colonna inquiry and the Office of Internal Oversight Services report from the United Nations.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Labour, Middlesbrough

The earlier comment that Israel should get on and finish the job sent a chill through this Chamber and through the homes of millions of people in our country, because they know what that means: increased numbers of children being massacred in Rafah, and I would like the Deputy Foreign Secretary to distance himself from that comment. Given the evidence in the High Court that says that the UK Government have not received any legal advice on potential violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza since 29 February, can he say what confidence he has that the £13 million-worth of aerial targeting equipment licensed for sale to Israel at the end of 2022, or the £10 million-worth of military support vehicle sales approved in May last year, will not result in the death of civilians in Rafah?

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. Gentleman’s first point, any Member of the House who asks a question is responsible for what they say and how they say it. From the Dispatch Box, I have given an answer to all the questions that have been asked, whether he approves of them or not. On his second point, where, with great skill, he seeks to flush out a different answer, I have nothing to add to what I have already said on the subject of arms sales.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

At a recent event in Glasgow, I heard the parish priest of Gaza describe the situation as almost like hell on earth. If an individual were to escape that hell in Gaza and make their way to the UK by irregular means, because there is no humanitarian visa and no safe and legal route, is it the Government’s position that such a person should be deported to Rwanda?

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 asks me a hypothetical question. When he comes up with a specific case where there is a need for a response, I will of course give it to him.

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

Like most people here, I want to see an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages and access to humanitarian aid, but quite frankly I have been absolutely gobsmacked by the Deputy Foreign Secretary’s response. I see no levers that the Government are using to influence the Israeli Government’s behaviour, and I see the playing with words around what our obligations are under international law in relation to our arms licensing process. As I am reading it here from the UN, if there is a “plausible risk of genocide” we should not be supplying arms to any country. The ICJ has already ruled that there is a plausible risk of genocide, so will the Deputy Foreign Secretary stop dancing on the head of a pin and do something about this?

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 heart of the hon. Lady’s question is throwing the word “genocide” across the Chamber, which I do not think is helpful. If she heard what I said earlier, I was, I hope, specifically helpful to the House, in showing why what she said about the ICJ and genocide was totally inaccurate, by quoting the former president of the ICJ.

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

We need an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages and a massive surge of aid going to all parts of Gaza. As we have warned for months, an Israeli offensive in Rafah would be catastrophic and it must not go ahead. What are the UK Government doing to ensure there is maximum international pressure to stop the offensive from happening and to urgently secure an agreement that includes an immediate 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)

The hon. Gentleman makes the point that everyone wants to see a pause in the fighting, a sustainable ceasefire, aid getting in in very significant volumes and the hostages getting out. That is the policy of the British Government. We are doing everything we can, together with our allies, to achieve those aims and we will continue to do so.

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

Israel has a right to defend its people, a right to have the 135 hostages released, and a right to destroy the four Hamas battalions still operating, whose goal is to murder everyone who is of Israeli or Jewish origin. Following the devastating breakdown of ceasefire talks, will the Minister outline how the Government can continue to work with Israel to see the hostages released and the end to hostilities, bearing in mind that families on both sides of the Gaza conflict are grieving and want an end to bloodshed, and want a future for all their children?

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 ever, my hon. Friend accurately, in his first three points, sets out the situation. On his final point, we will continue to work with everyone to try to achieve a resolution to these issues in the way I have set out today.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Having promised that Rafah would provide safe sanctuary, they now demand that the Palestinians must leave. Having frustrated humanitarian aid, they have now seized and closed the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings. Having killed 100 journalists, they have now seized and closed down al-Jazeera in Gaza. On Israel’s Government, the former US middle east envoy, Dennis Ross, stated today:

“At a certain point, Netanyahu needs to choose Biden over Ben-Gvir, he needs to choose the hostages over Smotrich.”

Do the Government agree with him that we are at that moment?

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 listen to everyone who comments on these matters, and we have been at a number of critical points throughout these appalling circumstances, but the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question that getting aid through entry points which are currently shut was vital, and we completely agree. We supported the maritime and air initiatives for that reason, but opening up those entry points remains the most important and most effective way of getting aid and humanitarian relief to desperate people.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Everyone in the House knows that the trickling of aid into Gaza has been a stop-start affair, but it is a critical lifeline to support Palestinian civilians none the less. Today that lifeline has been cut off yet again. May I ask whether this represents a failure of the Government’s policy, may I ask whether it amounts to a breach of international humanitarian law, and may I also ask, like everyone else, what the consequences will be?

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 always in favour of people being held to account for their actions. The hon. Lady will have gathered from what I have said at this Dispatch Box, today and on other occasions, that when there is a need for a transparent inquiry the Government always stand up for it. She said that aid had trickled into Gaza. She will know that as part of the Government’s intensive efforts, we have tried to ensure that the volume of aid is increased, and she will have heard what the Israeli Government said about flooding Gaza with aid. We are doing everything we can to increase the flow and hold the Israeli Government to account for what they have committed themselves to doing in respect of aid entering Gaza.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

We all want to see an immediate ceasefire on the part of all parties, and the release of all hostages. The United Nations reports:

“Cases of acute malnourishment among children continue to rise due to the unprecedented food crisis, deteriorating health, water and sanitation services, and widespread fear and stress undermining the ability of mothers to breastfeed their babies.”

Aid through Rafah has been very limited, and now that route has been cut off. Does the Minister consider the cutting off of aid routes to the civilian population to be a breach of the ICJ’s interim 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)

We are trying to ensure that we get aid into Gaza in a number of different ways. The hon. Lady will have heard me set out those ways, and I think we have taken advantage of all the opportunities we can find to increase the amount of aid getting in. We will continue to do everything we can to intensify that approach.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

The remit of the International Criminal Court does not extend only to war criminals in the Israeli Government and in Hamas; it extends to any Government who have failed to take reasonable steps to prevent these atrocities. The Minister may be happy to hide behind the defence of “My lawyers said it was OK,” but does he respect the right of UK civil servants to take their own independent legal advice on these matters, and will he give an assurance that no British civil servants will be put under any pressure to do anything if they honestly believe that it would contribute to crimes against humanity or war crimes in Gaza?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker; it is on this topic.

On Friday Sir Robert Chote, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, published a letter pointing out the uncertainties and bias relating to the casualty statistics produced by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. Many academic statisticians have also pointed out that the Hamas figures are metronomically linear and obviously fabricated. Members on all sides have used these terrorist figures, some with careless abandon, but Sir Robert said that

“it would be desirable for Ministers, Shadow Ministers and other Parliamentarians to state the source of any estimates they use in the public domain and to recognise” their limitations. Will you, Mr Deputy Speaker, advise Members to heed the urging of the UK Statistics Authority and to be highly cautious about using Hamas casualty statistics?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

I thank the right hon. and learned Member for his point of order and for giving notice of it. As he knows, comments made by Members in the Chamber are not the responsibility of the Chair, but he has successfully put his own view on the record.