Oliver Dowden says it is ‘not appropriate’ to release Gaza legal advice

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden says the Government can continue to sell weapons to Israel lawfully – but said it was “not appropriate” to release legal advice on whether international law had been broken in Gaza.

Despite mounting pressure following the deaths of seven aid workers, including three Britons, in Gaza, Dowden said the Government would continue its arms deals with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel.

Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “It hasn’t been the case that we publish legal advice. We carry out these assessments continuously. These are sensitive diplomatic relationships.

“So it’s not appropriate to publish it. [But] we’ve got one of the toughest arms control regimes in the world. We’re holding Israel to a very, very high standard”.

According to The Times, Dowden refused to say if ministers have received legal advice saying Israel had broken international law. It came following a claim from Alicia Kearns, who chairs the foreign affairs committee.

He did however say the Government had “concerns” while defending the war in Gaza as a “legitimate conflict”.

Ceasefire talks have resumed over the weekend, six months after Hamas launched its October 7 surprise attack. The US is now among those championing an end to the fighting.

The foreign office often consults legal advisors on exporting arms to nations that could be breaching international law. The Foreign Secretary then makes recommendations to the Business Secretary about which export licences to grant.

It is understood that Kemi Badenoch approved continued sales to Israel in December. Dowden yesterday confirmed exporting arms to Israel would continue.

Speaking on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, he said: “The key thing is, is it legitimate? Can we lawfully sell arms to Israel? Yes, that is the case and on that basis, the foreign secretary has given advice to the business secretary and that position hasn’t changed.”

British weaponry is said to be a small percentage of Israel’s military outgoings – around 42 million in 2022. However, Britain manufactures compenents for the F-35 fighter jet, used by the Israeli military.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy called for more scrutiny into the deals. He said: “There is plausible evidence that the threshold for suspending arms licences has been crossed. However, determining this legally is the proper task of competent lawyers, not politicians.”

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