6 Aug 2014

Hugo Swire ‘discussed quitting’ over Gaza

How big a problem does David Cameron have on Gaza? Sayeeda Warsi hinted at the scale of it in her resignation letter when she said there was “great unease across the Foreign Office, among both ministers and senior officials, in the way recent decisions have been made”.

In her interview with Channel 4 News on Tuesday, she went further, revealing that one minister had discussed resigning during a late night conversation, and an MP was “in tears about material that they had seen and the fact they felt we weren’t doing anything about it”.

Now, this programme has been told by senior Conservatives that the minister in question is Hugo Swire. This is significant because he’s a Foreign Office minister – adding to the sense that Middle East policy is being driven by Number Ten, with the people in the know at the relevant department unhappy passengers.

Swire told us today: “I want to be very clear – I have absolutely no intention of resigning whatsoever.”

Exclusive: ‘Why I quit over Gaza’ – Baroness Warsi

The problem for Cameron is that while senior Tories have tried to isolate Warsi by calling her all sorts of names (“egomaniac”, “hypocrite” “nonentity” to name but a few), it looks as if her views have influential support.

Several other Foreign Office ministers are said to be uneasy that the government hasn’t taken a tougher stance against Israel, and, according to Warsi, officials are in seditious mood too.

Many Conservatives believe the continuing ceasefire in Gaza, and the accompanying peace talks, have bought the prime minister a reprieve from his restive parliamentary party.

But the underlying challenges facing Gazans on a daily basis haven’t gone away. MPs on the Commons International Development Committee are now urging the government to push Israel to lift restrictions on the movements of Gazans.

This was one of the reasons behind the scale of civilian casualties. Israel kept on repeating the line that it had warned the people of Gaza to leave their homes before the bombing began, but with heavy restrictions on the crossings out of the region, and UN schools being used as shelters coming under fire, it was nigh-on impossible for ordinary Gazans to find anywhere to go.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats continue to up the ante with calls for an immediate arms embargo. But their ardent determination to block arms sales to Israel has something of the Johnny-come-lately about it.

I understand that at a major government meeting about Gaza and the Middle East in the last few weeks, Danny Alexander was the only Lib Dem attending. And he didn’t say a word.

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