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Guardian Editorial supports Saeeda Warsi stance and Cameroon warns Israel over Gaza

The Guardian view on Lady Warsi’s resignation: a double whammy

The Tories have lost an important asset, and their Middle East policy is under a harsh spotlight
 
       Sayeeda Warsi, who resigned from the cabinet on Tuesday
 
       Sayeeda Warsi, who resigned from the cabinet on Tuesday Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

At the candlelight vigil marking Britain’s entry into the first world war in Westminster Abbey on Monday night, Sayeeda Warsi was prominent. She was one of the four people who snuffed out a candle and pitched the congregation of dignitaries and politicians into an emblematic darkness. It was fitting that her last action as a government minister was performed partly as a representative of Muslim Britain. Her resignation less than 12 hours later was also, in part, the act of a representative of Muslim Britain – although many non-Muslims will endorse her criticisms of British foreign policy in Gaza.

Lady Warsi is making some very serious criticisms of that policy. Her heartfelt attack includes an indictment of its understanding of where Britain’s national interest lies, a “morally indefensible” attitude to Israel’s bombardment, particularly the failure to condemn it as disproportionate, the failure to halt arms sales, and the attempt to head off a referral of Israel – and Hamas – to the international criminal court. She warned that government policy would fuel anger and resentment in the Muslim community. Her critics, of whom she has quite a crowd in the higher reaches of the Tory party, immediately accused her of resigning in a fit of self-indulgence. If that is their only rebuttal, it merely makes her case. It is 11 years since the last ministerial resignation on a matter of policy, when Clare Short became the fourth minister, after Robin Cook, Philip Hunt and John Denham, to leave Tony Blair’s government in protest at the Iraq war. Like Lady Warsi, Ms Short was accused of self-indulgence too.

Lady Warsi’s departure would seem to mark the end of a distinct era in Tory foreign policy. Spurred on by guilt at the Major government’s inaction during genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, an activist approach to human rights was given its head in this coalition government, led by William Hague. He focused much of his energy on a campaign against sexual violence in conflict, and was an outspoken supporter of international humanitarian law. However, he did not support a Palestinian appeal to the international criminal court. Lady Warsi, minister for the ICC, found that unacceptable. But the strength of her relationship with the foreign secretary kept her on board until, thanks to the arrival of Phil Hammond, who shows little interest in the human-rights agenda, the attraction of the job was terminally diminished. The departure of Mr Hague and Lady Warsi, coupled with evidence of the fateful consequences of the intervention in Libya, seems to spell an end to the brief flowering of a Conservative human-rights-first approach and a reversion to a more traditional foreign policy built around narrowly defined national interests.

These are important matters, and she is not alone in her party in strongly criticising the handling of the Gaza crisis. Yet it is what her resignation says about her party’s openness to diverse opinion that will be most damaging in the long run. Lady Warsi was handpicked as a symbol of Tory readiness to modernise. After one unsuccessful general election campaign she was accelerated into the political frontline via the House of Lords, and after 2010 into the cabinet as the first Muslim ever to sit as a cabinet minister. While it is far from a homogenous group, as a Yorkshire-born daughter of a migrant from Pakistan, she is well connected with a large and important segment of British Muslim opinion. But, as her frustrated tweets over the past fortnight illustrated, she felt her views were being increasingly ignored. It is an indication of Mr Cameron’s clumsy party management that she was left in a job where she was so likely to come into conflict with him. Her departure will leave an indelible impression that the woman who shared Michael Gove’s outrage at the dominance of Etonians in her party has been forced out by a clique of posh white men. It is rumoured that she kept a diary and there are fears of a kind of revenge publication. It is hard to imagine that there is much more she can do to embarrass her party over either women or minorities.

• This article was amended on 7 August 2014. An earlier version said Clare Short was the third minister to leave Tony Blair’s government in protest at the Iraq war. She was the fourth.

Gaza crisis: UK government policy falling into disarray

Clegg demands suspension of arms export licences to Israel after Warsi resigns saying Cameron has lost moral authority
Sayeeda Warsi Resigns from Government
Warsi said Cameron’s response to Gaza may become 'a basis for radicalisation [that] could have consequences for years to come'. Photo: Andrew Parsons/i-Images

The government's policy towards the Israeli incursion into Gaza was in danger of falling apart on Tuesday night in the wake of the surprise resignation of the Foreign Office minister Sayeeda Warsi and a demand by Nick Clegg that Britain immediately suspend arms export licences to Israel.

Lady Warsi said the prime minister had lost moral authority, undermined the national interest and deprived Britain of its historic role as an honest broker in the Middle East by refusing to condemn the aggressive Israeli response to the Hamas rocket attacks as disproportionate.

In her strongly worded resignation letter, whose morning publication came as a surprise to No 10, Warsi warned that "our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible [and] is not in Britain's national interest".

She also complained that Cameron's response may become "a basis for radicalisation [which] could have consequences for us for years to come".

Her departure came after internal argument inside the National Security Council over Cameron's refusal to condemn the aggressive Israeli response to the Hamas rocket attacks.

British ministers have condemned the outcome of the Israeli bombings as intolerable and appalling, but Cameron has barred ministers from describing the Israeli bombings as disproportionate, and refused to attribute final blame prematurely even for some of the attacks on UN schools in Gaza.

Warsi's departure exacerbated coalition tensions over Gaza, as Clegg urged an immediate suspension of arms export licences, saying that Israel had breached the conditions. He said the suspension should remain in force until agreement has been reached across the government on any permanent revocation in the coming days.

Ministers agreed a review of the licences last week, but Clegg has decided to ratchet up the pressure, saying: "I believe the actions of the Israeli military, overstepping the mark in Gaza, breach the conditions of those export licences and that's why we want to see them suspended pending a wider review of whether they should be revoked more permanently in the long run."

Revealing he has been putting pressure on his Conservative colleagues for a suspension of the licences rather than a review, he said: "I believe we will be able to make an announcement on this, finally, very shortly. It's very important that in response to clearly what appears to be disproportionate military action of Israel in Gaza, we should be suspending the arms export licences that presently exist."

Warsi's departure also prompted a vicious round of briefing against her by some Tories, condemning her variously as egotistical, incompetent, a Hamas sympathiser and motivated by pique at her failure to be promoted in the last reshuffle.

However, Downing Street, aware that she has the potential to cause lethal damage if she broadens her attack on the Cameron circle, as her resignation letter threatened, distanced itself from such briefings. Cameron, in his reply to her resignation letter, lavished praise on her and urged her to raise any issues with him in the future. It is known she has kept copious diaries, and officials fear she may claim in retrospect she was used as a token Muslim.

Cameron wrote: "I very much regret that we were not able to speak about your decision beforehand." He added: "I understand your strength of feeling on the current crisis in the Middle East – the situation in Gaza is intolerable. Our policy has always been consistently clear: we support a negotiated two-state solution as the only way to resolve this conflict once and for all and to allow Israelis and Palestinians to live safely in peace."

The departure of the first British Muslim cabinet minister is a major blow for Cameron, potentially weakening Conservative support among ethnic minorities in marginal seats, lifting the lid on the divisions on the Tory backbenches over the scale of Israel's bombing, and apparently confirming to the party's centre-left that traditional support for international human rights has been severely eroded by ministerial changes. "It's now a Daily Mail administration," complained one recently sacked Conservative minister.

Warsi, as senior foreign office minister, was responsible for British support for international human rights law and in her resignation letter bemoaned the departure in the previous reshuffle of Kenneth Clarke, and the former attorney general Dominic Grieve.

Warsi spoke at length to the new foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, on Sunday and appears to have held back from resigning on Monday because of the first world war commemorations.

Instead she resigned via Twitter just after 9am on Tuesday, coincidentally about three hours after a three-day ceasefire had come into force.

Both Hammond and the chancellor, George Osborne, highlighted the timing of her announcement. Osborne described her decision to quit as "disappointing and frankly unnecessary", while Hammond said he was slightly surprised she had quit just as weeks of behind-the-scenes diplomacy was bearing fruit with the ceasefire.

But Warsi's resignation broke a dam of criticism of Israel in the Conservative party. Boris Johnson, the London mayor often touted as a future leadership contender, condemned Israel with the words Cameron has declined to deploy.

"I believe in a two-state solution. I cannot for the life of me see how this helps us get there. I think that it is disproportionate, I think it is ugly, and it is tragic. And I don't think it will do us any good in the long run," Johnson said. 

 

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Warsi hits back at Osborne: 'George is a good friend of the Israeli government'

Lady Warsi gave an interview to Channel 4 News defending her decision to quit the government and urging other ministers to speak out about their concerns
  • theguardian.com,          Tuesday 5 August 2014 21.14 BST
*** BESTPIX *** Baroness Warsi Resigns Over Gaza Conflict
Baroness Warsi gave an interview to Channel 4 News on Tuesday defending her decision to quit the government over its handling of the Gaza conflict. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Sayeeda Warsi has attacked George Osborne for failing to raise enough concerns with Israel about its bombing of Gaza, and urged other ministers who are privately expressing concern about the crisis to speak out.

The senior Conservative directed her ire at the chancellor after he said her resignation over the government's position on Gaza was "disappointing and frankly unnecessary".

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Warsi also revealed there is concern "at ministerial level" about the government's failure to condemn Israel's shelling of civilians in Gaza as disproportionate. One minister has talked about resigning and another senior Conservative backbencher has been in tears on the phone about it, she said.

Asked about Osborne's comments, she said: "George is a very good friend of the Israeli government and therefore he, more than anybody else, should have been saying quite frankly to the Israeli government that what you are doing is not in your interest. This is probably the biggest single act of self-harm that the Israeli government has done over the last few years. What he should have been saying to the Israeli government is that it is unnecessary for you to kill innocent civilians, to displace a quarter of the Gazan population, for you to flatten schools, hospitals and power supplies and water supplies to achieve your end. Had George done that, I agree with him that it would not have been necessary for me to resign."

She added: "I think it's a sincerely held view that the best way to resolve this matter is to be as accommodating as possible to the Israeli government, to seek influence with them and through that to try and move them to a more positive decision. I'm not sure that policy is working."

Warsi also lifted the lid on unhappiness within the ranks of the Conservative party about the response to the conflict, which has now been going on for a month.

"Without dropping people in it I can say there is unease on the backbenches, there is concern at ministerial level," she said. "I have had one senior Conservative on the phone in tears about material that they had seen and the fact they felt we weren't doing anything about it. I've had a minister in a late night conversation talking about resignation. There is real concern among Conservatives about this issue. I hope if there is some good that comes out of it people who feel the same way as I do are prepared to raise these voices within government and are taken seriously."

One of the peer's major points of concern has been David Cameron's refusal to say that Israeli action in Gaza has been "disproportionate" like he did when the country launched an incursion into Lebanon in 2006. While the prime minister has said the UN was right to condemn a bombing near a third school, he has otherwise only called for an immediate ceasefire, while taking care to blame Hamas for sparking the conflict.

"I think for me it's morally indefensible where after four weeks of a conflict more than a quarter of the Gazan population displaced, more than 2,000 people killed, more than 400 innocent children killed, we still cannot find the words to say, we condemn this and we feel this action has been disproportionate. These issues are too serious for us to be mealy-mouthed and for us to be dragging our heels."

Warsi gave the interview after earlier releasing her resignation letter to the prime minister, which spoke of her concerns that the fall-out from the Gaza crisis could lead to radicalisation of young Muslims.

"There is no doubt there is the potential for radicalisation for young people," she said. "I fundamentally believe the way in which we conduct ourselves domestically does impact on our reputation internationally, and the way we behave internationally does have blow-back domestically … It's not a claim I make there is evidence there in black and white in the work that the Home Office is doing. These reports and this evidence makes for uncomfortable reading but we can either bury our head in the sand and pretend it's not there."

Like Nick Clegg, she also called for the UK to stop selling arms and military equipment to Israel.

"It is wrong for a country to allow arms to be supplied to a potential warzone. It seems odd to have a policy that on the one hand we allow arms to be supplied and on the other we spend taxpayers money patching up the people who may have been injured from the use of those arms," she said. "Therefore we've got to be bold in taking the decision and say until who have been alleged to have committed war crimes over the last few weeks have been brought to justice then we must stop selling arms to Israel."

Warsi said she might not have felt it necessary to resign had she been in another department but she found it too difficult to stand up in the House of Lords every day and answer foreign policy questions related to the issue.

Asked about whether there was a moment that made up her mind, she said: "There were many moments. Every time a school was bombed. Every time you saw a picture of Gaza with no lights at night. Every time a child about the age of my own children was killed. The moment when young boys playing football on the beach were suddenly there no longer."

David Cameron warns Israel over Gaza after pressure from Ed Miliband

Prime minister speaks after Labour leader urged government to condemn both Israel's military action and Hamas's rocket attacks
 

David Cameron warns Israel over targeting civilians in Gaza conflict
David Cameron's comments are a significant hardening of the UK position on the Gaza crisis. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

David Cameron has warned Israel that it is "wrong and illegal" to target civilians, in his strongest comments so far on the conflict in Gaza which has killed more than 1,800 people.

The prime minister would not be drawn on whether he believes Israel has broken international law by shelling children outside a school, but he told the BBC the UN was "right to speak out in the way it has, because international law is very clear that there mustn't be the targeting of civilians or the targeting of schools, if that's what's happened".

It comes after the US said on Friday that the missile strike on a school was "totally unacceptable", while the UN said on Sunday a subsequent attack was a "moral outrage" and a criminal act.

Cameron addressed the issue after days of pressure from the opposition leader, Ed Miliband, to condemn Israel's military action in Gaza.

The prime minister does not go as far as the Labour leader, who has said the whole incursion into Gaza is wrong, or Nick Clegg, who has said Israel's actions appear to be a disproportionate act of collective punishment and called for talks with Hamas.

However, Cameron's comments are a significant hardening of the UK position after the third report of shelling in or outside a UN school in recent days.

Speaking before commemorations for the centenary of the first world war, Cameron said: "International law is very, very clear that the use of force always has to be proportionate, that civilians should not be targeted, and I was clear about that two weeks ago in the House of Commons."

The prime minister defended himself against Miliband's criticism that the UK had not been bold or quick enough to criticise Israel.

"We've been very clear that there needs to be an immediate, comprehensive humanitarian ceasefire and that we want this conflict to stop. And we obviously think it's appalling, the loss of life that there's been. From the start, though, we've also made the point that if the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel stop, then that would be probably the fastest way to stop this conflict," he said.

On Sunday, Miliband said politicians needed to be "speaking out without timidity and truthfully about what is happening" and warned Israel that its actions were counterproductive because every death of an innocent Palestinian could increase support for Hamas.

He said it was essential for the government to be much clearer that Israel's actions in Gaza are wrong, just like the rocket attacks perpetrated by Hamas.

"Speaking out is necessary to put the pressure on Israel as, of course, there must also be pressure on Hamas, a terrorist organisation, to end this violence."

Miliband added: "I speak as a friend of Israel. I have relatives in Israel; I care deeply about the state of Israel. But day by day as we see these outrages on our television screens, Israel is losing friends in the international community."

Downing Street said it was shocked that Miliband would try to "play politics" over the issue, while Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, suggested that Miliband's comments could be undermining the efforts to get both sides to reach a ceasefire.

"I don't think it helps if we make strong comments that are going to put us in less of a position to do that," Grayling told Sky News. "We all want to see an end to this conflict. We want to see a proper ceasefire. We want to see an end to military action on both sides. And we want to see long-term peace in the region.

"The best approach that the British government can take, in my view, is to try and work to get both sides to take that approach and not to get involved in being ultra-critical of one side or the other." 

 

 
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Lady Warsi resigns over UK’s ‘morally indefensible’ stance on Gaza

Foreign Office minister announces on Twitter that she is standing down because she can no longer support government policy

• Lady Warsi’s resignation letter - in full
David Cameron’s reply
• Lady Warsi: an uncomfortable fit with Tory ranks

 
           Lady Warsi
 
           Lady Warsi has resigned saying: ‘I can no longer support government policy on Gaza’. Photograph: Lee Thomas/Zuma Press/Corbis

Sayeeda Warsi, the senior Foreign Office minister, has resigned from the government in protest at its policy on Gaza, describing it as “morally indefensible”.

Lady Warsi announced her departure on Twitter on Tuesday, saying: “With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza.”

In her resignation letter, Warsi said the government’s “approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically”.

She said the UK’s stance was “not consistent with the rule of law and our long support for international justice”, adding: “The British government can only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker and at the moment I do not think it is.”

 
           

The chancellor, George Osborne, hit back immediately, saying her decision was unnecessary and insisting that ministers were committed to working to secure peace in the region. “This a disappointing and frankly unnecessary decision,” he said. “The British government is working with others in the world to bring peace to Gaza and we do now have a tentative ceasefire which we all hope will hold.”

David Cameron was more emollient, writing in his reply to Warsi’s letter that he realised “this must not have been an easy decision for you to make”, and adding: “I understand your strength of feeling on the current crisis in the Middle East – the situation in Gaza is intolerable.”

The prime minister said the government’s position on Israel and the Palestinians was clear: “Our policy has always been consistently clear: we support a negotiated two-state solution as the only way to resolve this conflict once and for all and to allow Israelis and Palestinians to live safely in peace. “Of course, we believe that Israel has the right to defend itself. But we have consistently made clear our grave concerns about the heavy toll of civilian casualties and have called on Israel to exercise restraint, and to find ways to bring this fighting to an end. As part of that, we have consistently called for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.”

Ed Miliband said Warsi had acted with “principle and integrity” and he urged Cameron to re-think his position. “I hope that David Cameron will reflect on what she says in her resignation letter and change his approach,” he told BBC News. “He needs to break his silence and say that Israel’s actions have been unjustified and indefensible. He needs to show that he can be even-handed and, without fear or favour, argue for the long-term solution that we need to this tragic conflict.”

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Warsi said: “Our position not to recognise Palestinian statehood at the UN in November 2012 placed us on the wrong side of history and is something I deeply regret not speaking out against at the time.”

The Tory peer said that, having now stood down, she wanted to “speak more freely” on the issue and her first demand after handing in her resignation letter was for the UK to introduce an arms embargo against Israel. “It appals me that the British government continues to allow the sale of weapons to a country, Israel, that has killed almost 2,000 people, including hundreds of kids, in the past four weeks alone. The arms exports to Israel must stop.”

 
           

In a further interview with Channel 4 News, Warsi suggested Cameron had been “mealy-mouthed” over his refusal to say Israel’s actions had been disproportionate.

“I think for me, it’s morally indefensible where after four weeks of a conflict – more than a quarter of the Gazan population displaced, nearly 2,000 people killed, nearly 400 innocent children killed – we still cannot find the words to say we condemn this and we feel this action has been disproportionate. These issues are far too serious for us to have been mealy-mouthed and for us to be dragging our heels.”

Warsi was known to have been unhappy with Cameron’s failure to unequivocally condemn Israel’s incursion into Gaza or the mounting death toll. On Monday, the prime minister’s spokesman refused to say if Israel was behaving disproportionately or doing enough to prevent civilian casualties. Warsi has been increasingly critical of Israel’s behaviour. She recently tweeted: “Can people stop trying to justify the killing of children. Whatever our politics there can never be justification, surely only regret.”

Following criticism about the timing of her resignation – on the 29th day of the conflict and after a ceasefire had been announced – Warsi spoke to the BBC to say: “Over the last four weeks, I have done everything that I can both at formal meetings and informal meetings trying to convince my colleagues that our current policy on Gaza is morally indefensible, that it’s not in our interests, it’s not in British interests and that it will have consequences for us both internationally and here at home.

“In the end, for us I felt the government’s position was not moving and therefore I had to on a point of principle resign.”

Warsi became the first Muslim to sit in the cabinet when she was made Conservative party co-chair by Cameron after the 2010 general election. She was subsequently moved to the post of minister of state at the Foreign Office and minister for faith and communities in the prime minister’s 2012 reshuffle – a move widely regarded as a demotion.

Cameron is due to fly to Portugal on Tuesday morning to rejoin his family on holiday after attending first world war commemorations in the UK, France and Belgium.

There was a high-level campaign to remove Warsi before last month’s reshuffle, particularly after she appeared on ITV’s The Agenda and posed with a mock front page about the “Eton Mess” at the top of the government. Warsi is known to be keeping a diary and there have been fears she will publish it before the election in an effort to expose the upper-class coterie in Cameron’s inner circle.

Her resignation also threatened to reveal disagreement within the Tory party over Israel. The London mayor, Boris Johnson, responded to Warsi’s resignation by saying it was very sad when any government minister stood down. “I think she will be back as soon as possible. My view as mayor of London is that it is not the function of the mayor to get deeply embroiled in this,” he said on LBC radio’s Ask Boris phone-in.

He added that events in Gaza were “utterly horrifying and unacceptable”, but said “there is no point in politicians getting in a bidding war about issuing the most frenzied denunciation of what is going on”. Referring to the Israeli bombing, Johnson said: “I cannot for the life of me see why this is a sensible strategy. It is not my function to arbitrate or adjudicate in this matter – I am a passionate supporter of Israel. I cannot for the life of me see the purpose of this. It is disproportionate, ugly and tragic and will not do Israel any good in the long run.”

Nick Clegg said it was “no secret there are differences of opinions and emphases” in the government in relation to Gaza. Speaking at an event on immigration, he said: “Sayeeda Warsi clearly feels very strongly about this and has explained it to the prime minister in her own words. I believe it is right for Britain to be unambiguous in our condemnation of Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets but also very forceful and outspoken about Israel. The bombing of three UN schools is a complete outrage.”

Asked whether Cameron had been critical enough of Israel’s actions, Clegg said it was up to the prime minister to speak for himself. “Clearly the prime minister and I take different views on this and we always have done.”

Clegg made it clear he would not be following Warsi and resigning over the issue, saying he agreed with government’s position in favour of “peace rather than conflict and a ceasefire rather than violence”.