5 Aug 2014

Baroness Warsi quits government over Gaza

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, senior minister of state at the foreign office and minister for faith and communities, resigns from the government over its policy on Gaza.

Sayeeda Warsi, the minister who quit government today over Gaza, says she had to stand down because of the UK’s “morally indefensible” position.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Cathy Newman she said it was “morally indefenisble” to stay on:

“For me it’s morally indefensible where after four weeks of a conflict more than a quarter of the Gazan population displaced, nearly two thousand people killed, never 400 innocent children killed – we still cannot find the words to say we condemn this and that we feel that this action has been disproportionate. These issues are far too serious for us to have be mealy mouthed and for us to be dragging our heels.

“I think there is a sincerely held view in government that the best way to resolve this matter is to try and be as accommodating as possible to the Israeli government, to try and through that 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.”

Increasingly over the last four weeks I was deeply uncomfortable with the decisions that the government was making – Baroness Warsi

She also said George Osborne was a very “good friend” of the Israeli government and should use his position to say that what the Israelis are doing is not in their self interest and that “this is probably the biggest single act of self-harm that the Israeli government have done over the last few years.”

She explained that her sense of unease deepened over the last few weeks with the decisions the government was making:

“I was incredibly uneasy about having to stand at the Dispatch Box day after day and repeat lines which I did not agree with. And it was time therefore for me to be honest with myself and honest with the prime minister and say I can’t hold to these lines, I can’t hold to collective responsibility and the honourable and decent thing to do was to step down.”

Baroness Warsi said she had written to David Cameron to tender her resignation. Last week Channel 4 News revealed that the Tory minister had deep reservations over the government’s approach to the Gaza conflict, in which 1,834 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed as well as 64 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Watch: Baroness Warsi exclusive interview on why she quit

Within 15 minutes of posting her resignation on Twitter, it had been retweeted 2,630 times.

Her resignation is the most high profile protest to the government’s policy on Gaza.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi's resignation letter (WARSI TWITTER)

In her resignation letter (above) Baroness 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 also takes a swipe at new Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, praising his predecessor William Hague as someone who “restored decision making and dignity to the foreign office”, but saying there was “great unease” over “amongst ministers and officials over “recent decision making”.

On Channel 4 News on Monday night Conservative MP Crispin Blunt called for greater pressure on all parties involved in the conflict, and said the shelling of a UN school by Israelis was a “criminal act”.

Last Thursday Channel 4 News revealed that Conservative MP Margot James had written to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond urging a government rethink on Gaza.

The resignation comes as the latest ceasefire in the Gaza conflict begins, and Israel withdrew its soldiers from Gaza.

Prime Minister David Cameron responded to Baroness Warsi’s letter later in the day, thanking her for her support, friendship and commitment.

He also reiterated the government’s position on Gaza: “I realise this must not have been an easy decision for you to make, and very much regret that we were not able to speak about your decision beforehand.

“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.

“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.”

His full letter is available here.