20 May 2024
Israel and Gaza

Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell makes a statement to the House of Commons and answers MPs’ questions on Israel and Gaza.

The Deputy Foreign Secretary (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

With permission, I would like to make a statement on Israel and Gaza.

Over seven months since the horrors of 7 October, there is no end to the current conflict in sight. This Government want to bring the conflict to a sustainable end as soon as possible, but as so often with conflicts of this nature, the question is not about our desire for peace, but rather about the best means of achieving it. We continue to believe that 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 would then have to work with our international partners to turn that pause into a sustainable permanent ceasefire.

Building momentum towards a lasting peace will require a number of elements, including removing Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel. It was a deal of that kind that secured a pause in the fighting before Christmas—the only such pause since Hamas’s horrific attack. It was that approach that the United Nations Security Council endorsed just last month, following some effective British diplomacy.

A deal with Hamas for a pause in the fighting would involve exchanging hundreds of Palestinian prisoners charged with serious acts of terrorism in return for the hostages’ release. I do not underestimate how difficult that must be for the Israeli Government, but it is the best way forward that we see right now.

We continue to work closely with the United States and partners in the region to support such a deal. We do not believe that the International Criminal Court prosecutor seeking warrants will help in that regard. As we have said from the outset, we do not think that the ICC has jurisdiction in this case.

A deal as I have described offers the best prospects of reuniting more hostages with their families; the anguish for them is unbearable. I am sure that the whole House joins me in holding the family of Nadav Popplewell in our thoughts at this deeply distressing time. We are still working intensively to establish the facts after the awful video that his Hamas kidnappers released last week. The Foreign Secretary met the family last week to hear more about their ordeal at first hand. Likewise, we send our condolences to those families whose loved ones the Israeli authorities stated last week had died.

At the same time, the toll on civilians in Gaza continues to rise. Images from the strip give us some sense of what they endure: civilians piling belongings on to a cart led by a donkey, or seeking to scrape together a meal in a makeshift shelter. We have seen appalling attacks on aid convoys and UN offices by Israeli extremists, and the tragic deaths of UN and other humanitarian personnel in Gaza.

We keep in close contact with Sigrid Kaag, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, and we condemn all attacks on aid workers and support the United Nations’ call for an independent investigation. The Government of Israel have previously set out publicly their commitment to increase the flow of aid into Gaza significantly, but we need to see far more. The Prime Minister impressed the urgency of that on 30 April. In the past 10 days, the Foreign Secretary has spoken to Israeli Ministers Ron Dermer and Israel Katz. He has called on them to implement in full Israel’s aid commitments. We want to see: humanitarian aid allowed to enter through all relevant crossing points, including in Rafah; critically needed goods flowing in, particularly fuel and medical supplies; effective deconfliction processes to ensure that aid can be distributed safely and effectively; critical infrastructure restored and protected; evacuations for all those eligible; concrete action to protect civilians and minimise casualties; and, as Israeli Minister Benny Gantz said over the weekend, more planning for reconstruction and a return to Palestinian civilian governance of Gaza once the fighting has ceased.

We remain absolutely committed to getting aid into Gaza to alleviate the suffering, and we are working with a wide variety of other Governments and aid agencies to deliver aid by land, sea and air. I am delighted to confirm to the House that we have now successfully delivered British aid on to Gaza’s shore using the Cyprus maritime corridor, which we and our partners—notably, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Cyprus—made operational just last week. We have committed almost £10 million in funding. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay is acting as a logistics hub for the operation.

We have now delivered more than 8,000 shelter coverage kits alongside aid from the US and UAE, with more aid to follow in the coming weeks including hygiene kits and forklift trucks. Work to develop other effective partnerships for the delivery of aid continues. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon is in Qatar today, discussing a health partnership for Palestinians so that a British medical training agency can support doctors and health practitioners treating Palestinian patients.

We know that much, much more aid is required, but that delivery by land remains the quickest and most effective option, so we continue to work closely with Oman to maximise the aid delivered via the Jordan land corridor. I pay tribute to all those aid workers, military personnel, diplomats and medical professionals who are involved in Britain’s efforts to save lives and alleviate the suffering of civilians in Gaza. I confirm to the House that, last week, intense efforts by the Foreign Office led to the departure from Gaza of three British aid workers who were at risk from an outbreak of fighting.

As the fighting continues, we estimate that around 800,000 Palestinian civilians have fled from where they were seeking shelter in Rafah to other parts of the southern strip. The extent of this displacement is why we have been clear that we would not support a major Israeli military operation in Rafah, unless there was a very clear plan for how to protect people and save lives. We have not seen that plan. We and 13 of our partners, including France, Germany, Italy and Australia, set out our concerns in a detailed letter to the Israeli Government.

After more than seven months of fighting, it is becoming difficult to imagine the realisation of a lasting peace, but Britain continues to try to build momentum towards that goal. That will require not only the release of all the hostages and an end to the current fighting, but the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel; Hamas no longer being in charge in Gaza; the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the west bank and Gaza; and a political horizon for the Palestinians, providing a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution. That is what we continue to strive towards: peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike. I commend the statement to the House.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Secretary of State.


Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. The conflict has now gone on for 226 days. That is 226 days of destruction; 226 days of Israeli hostages still in chains; 226 days that have led to 35,000 Palestinian deaths; and 226 days where the risk of further regional escalation worsens every day. We will keep repeating our call until it happens: there must be an immediate ceasefire, as this House supported through Labour’s motion and as demanded by the United Nations Security Council resolution. Diplomatic pressure must now go into overdrive to bring the fighting to an end.

Labour has been opposed to an Israeli offensive in Rafah for months. The UK Government should now work with the United States to try to prevent a full-scale Rafah offensive, by being clear that they will assess UK exports and, if it goes ahead, join our American allies in suspending weapons or components that could be used in that offensive.

When we last met on this subject, I asked the Deputy Foreign Secretary to confirm whether he or the Foreign Secretary had received from Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office officials any assessment or policy advice—not legal advice—that the threshold had already been met. He dodged the question, and did not answer. I repeat that question to him today. The whole House will be interested in his response.

Last November in this House, the Deputy Foreign Secretary appeared to row back on Boris Johnson’s shameful abandonment of the International Criminal Court when he said:

“It is not for Ministers to seek to state where the ICC has jurisdiction”.—[Official Report, 14 November 2023; Vol. 740, c. 513.]

The Prime Minister followed up in December when he said:

“we are a strong and long-standing supporter of the International Criminal Court.”—[Official Report, 6 December 2023; Vol. 742, c. 336.]

But in today’s statement, the Government have backtracked, U-turning on one of the Britain’s most fundamental principles: respect for the rule of law. Labour has been clear throughout this conflict that international law must be upheld, the independence of international courts must be respected, and all sides must be accountable for their actions. I ask the Minister very simply: does he agree?

Arrest warrants are not a conviction or a determination of guilt, but they do reflect the evidence, and the judgment of the prosecutor about the grounds for individual criminal responsibility. Labour’s position is that the ICC chief prosecutor’s decision to apply for arrest warrants is an independent matter for the Court and the prosecutor. Does the Minister agree? Labour believes that the ICC’s independence must be upheld and respected, and that it is right that the conduct of all parties is addressed by the Court. Does the Minister agree? Labour believes that the focus of politicians should be on achieving an immediate ceasefire, in order to end the war in Gaza, free the hostages, alleviate the humanitarian crisis and create a pathway towards a lasting political solution. Does the Minister agree? Labour believes the UK and all parties to the Rome statute have a legal obligation to comply with orders and warrants issued by the ICC. Democracies that believe in the rule of law must submit themselves to it. Does the Minister agree?

Labour supports the ICC as a cornerstone of the international legal system. That support applies regardless of the Court’s focus, whether it is in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria or Gaza. Does the Minister agree? This gets to the heart of a simple question. Does the Conservative party —the party of Churchill, who was one of the founders of our international legal framework—believe in the international rule of law or not?

Mr Mitchell 

I start by assuring the shadow Foreign Secretary that the Government’s answer to his final question is, as he would expect, yes. It is worth stating that if one looks carefully at his high-flown oratory this afternoon, we do not see very much distinction between the positions of His Majesty’s Opposition and the Government, as I will set out.

The right hon. Gentleman starts off by saying that this is day 226 of the incarceration of the hostages, of the destruction that has taken place, and of the risks of escalation. I completely agree with what he says. He says that the diplomatic pressure must rise. I can tell him that the diplomatic pressure is intense on all counts and in all places. He says that we must work closely with the United States of America. Let me assure him that we are working intensively and closely with the United States.

The right hon. Gentleman asks me about the advice we receive, and suggests that I dodged the question on the earlier occasion. I certainly had no intention of doing so. I can tell him that we receive all sorts of advice from all sorts of places, but we do not—as is the custom and practice, as he knows well—disclose our legal advice. We are always careful to follow it meticulously; that is my answer to his question.

The right hon. Gentleman asks: is this a matter on which the International Criminal Court should act independently? My answer is that of course it is, but we do not necessarily have to stay silent on what the court is doing, and we certainly are not doing so. On his question about the letter from a former Prime Minister, as we have said from the outset, we do not think that the ICC has jurisdiction in this case. The UK has not recognised Palestine as a state, and Israel is not a state party to the Rome statute.

As I say, if we split away some of what the right hon. Gentleman said today from the oratory that he customarily displays in this place, we see that the positions of the Opposition Front Bench and the Government remain very closely aligned.

Mr Speaker 

I call the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

My condolences go to all the families who, over the last few days, have received the most devastating news—news that their loved ones have been murdered—and also to the Popplewell family, who have received heinous treatment from Hamas, including the publication of that outrageous video. Last week the Select Committee pushed the Minister for the middle east to do more to secure proof of life of those who are being held hostage, and that remains our call.

I welcome the effort on the maritime port—it is good that that is now in place—but it will be unable to function come September owing to the changes in the tide, so this is a short-term solution. Since 6 May, when the Rafah offensive started, only 40 trucks have gone through the Kerem Shalom crossing. In Rafah no fuel has gone in, no medical evacuations have taken place and aid agencies have started to suspend the sending in of their own people, which is extremely concerning. When will the Rafah crossing reopen, and will the Erez West crossing finally accept aid, not just through Jordan but also through Ramallah, because otherwise the amount of aid that is needed will simply not get in?

Mr Mitchell 

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for her questions. She has made the point about proof of life before, and as she knows, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad has been pursuing that issue—in direct response, I think, to her Committee. She made the very good point that the maritime option will continue only as long as the sea conditions are satisfactory, and that emphasises the importance of getting aid in by road; the ability to do that is one of Britain’s specific demands of the Israeli Government. She also pointed out that Rafah has effectively been closed for the last few weeks, and drew attention to the great difficulties that that causes. We hope very much that there will soon be a deal between Egypt and Israel to put that right.

Mr Speaker 

I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

We are on a very dangerous road if we believe that the rule of law is something from which a Government can pick and choose. Unlike the Government, we very much welcome the decision of the International Criminal Court to issue warrants for the arrest of the Hamas leaders Sinwar, al-Masri and Haniyeh for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed on, and subsequent to, 7 October. We have always unreservedly condemned the appalling Hamas attacks, the murders and the hostage-taking, and we repeat our call for the immediate release of the hostages.

Given the ferociously disproportionate Israeli response, which has seen 35,000 dead, 100,000 injured, tens of thousands of children orphaned, civilian infrastructure in ruins and the cutting off of food, water, electricity and medical supplies, we also welcome the ICC’s filing of applications for warrants for the arrest of both the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The ICC says that it has evidence, including interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, that shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population of Gaza of what they need to survive. It has referred specifically to Israel using starvation as a weapon of war, and intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population. All these are acts that constitute a crime against humanity. The ICC has also confirmed everything that we have said about the crimes of 7 October, and Israel’s use of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing in response to those crimes.

For eight months, this Government have told us that they cannot make an assessment of breaches of international humanitarian law, but they have today—because it suits them—made an immediate assessment of the decision of the International Criminal Court, whose panel of experts consists predominantly of UK lawyers, simply because they do not agree with it. It is shameful and unforgivable that for eight months this Government have chosen to deny the evidence of their own eyes, and have given political cover and munitions to Israel. We have to assume, sadly, that if today does not put an end to the UK licensing of arms exports to Israel, absolutely nothing will.

Mr Mitchell 

The position in respect of the ICC is simply not as the hon. Gentleman set out. The ICC has not done what he suggested; it has done nothing of the sort. He suggested that it had already found the answer to these allegations, but the truth is that the pre-trial chamber needs to consider the evidence, and to then reach a judgment. Let us not jump through all these hoops at once when they are simply not there to be jumped through.

Like the shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Gentleman asks whether we are playing fast and loose with the rule of law. We are certainly not, and I hope that he will attend the main debate today, when he will see exactly what the Government think about the rule of law in all cases. Just because someone supports the role of the ICC, it does not mean that they have to be devoid of a view on what it is saying, and the Government are giving their view. As I said, we do not believe that seeking warrants will get the hostages out, get aid in or deliver a sustainable ceasefire, which remains the UK’s priority.

Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)

I ask this question in my personal capacity, not as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. In general, I am a strong supporter of the work of the ICC. The terrorist attack was undoubtedly designed to provoke an overreaction by the Israelis and to polarise societies, and it has succeeded in both those aims. May I ask the Minister to encourage the House to read the ICC’s statement in full? Helpfully, it is available online. May I urge people with a partisan view on either side of this atrocious issue to seriously take on board what the ICC is saying about the activities of the side they support, as well as those of the side they oppose?

Mr Mitchell 

My right hon. Friend makes a good point about ensuring that the debate is informed by facts, not rhetoric.

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab)

I am a little bit confused. The Government have previously said that they will not endorse any military operation in Rafah because it would be against international law. The Minister has said today that that would be the case unless there was a very clear plan on how to protect people and save lives. What has changed?

Mr Mitchell 

Nothing has changed at all. We have repeatedly made it clear that we cannot support an attack on Rafah without seeing a detailed plan. Clearly, that means a constructive plan that abides by IHL on all counts.

Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a grotesque overreach by the ICC? Courts, too, must act within the rule of law, and the jurisdiction of a court is not for itself to judge. The statute of Rome, which set up the International Criminal Court, clearly delineated the powers of the Court. The US and the UK have both previously said that the ICC does not have jurisdiction. Under its founding charter, it can only act against a sovereign state that is a signatory. The US, Israel and dozens of other countries are not signatories, and Gaza is not a sovereign state. Putting aside any purported evidence for a moment, the Court does not have jurisdiction, and like any other court, such as a traffic court or a magistrates court, it has to act within its powers—the powers set up for it by the international community. Is it not true that the ICC is acting outwith its powers and, sadly, setting itself up as a political court?

Mr Mitchell 

I have made clear our position on the ICC. On what my right hon. and learned Friend says, many people will agree with what Benny Gantz said this morning:

“Placing the leaders of a country that went into battle to protect its civilians in the same line with bloodthirsty terrorists is moral blindness”.

Sir George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab)

Many of us, from all parts of this House, have supported the right of Israel to exist and, consequently, its right to defend itself over many years, and we have also condemned as appalling the atrocities that were carried out by Hamas on 7 October, but as the Minister said in his statement, after seven months of fighting, it is becoming difficult to imagine the realisation of a lasting peace; I agree with him on that. Does he not agree that until Israel realises that it has to listen to its friends, in this House and around the world, and take responsibility for its own actions, our support for it will decline rapidly?

Mr Mitchell 

The right hon. Gentleman accepts that Israel has the right to self-defence, but says that it must exercise it within international humanitarian law. He makes the important point that we have to lift people’s eyes to what a future settlement based on a two-state solution will look like when this appalling catastrophe is over. A great deal of work is going on behind the scenes with regional partners, with great powers and through the United Nations to ensure that we can lift people’s eyes and that there is a deal to be done that will, at long last, draw the poison from this terrible situation.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con)

Facts are important, and the facts have not changed since 7 October. It is Hamas who embed themselves in civilian areas, use civilian institutions and put their own people at risk in this conflict. It is Hamas who have committed rapes as a weapon of war. It is Hamas who are still holding innocent civilians hostage. And it is Hamas who went into Israeli communities on 7 October and butchered 1,200 people, including slicing the breasts off women and the limbs off children. On the other side, we have the democratic, liberal state of Israel with an independent judicial process and a Supreme Court that is respected internationally and that the ICC is supposed to respect. Yet there are people in here who, from day one, have done very little to call out some of the other behaviour and everything to hold Israel to a standard they do not hold others to. That is why the Czech Prime Minister and the—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Order. Please can everybody focus on a question? I am not quite sure that I heard a question there—[Interruption.] I think the Minister has heard enough to respond.

Mr Mitchell 

My hon. Friend speaks with great passion and feeling on this subject, and I think he might be one of those who agree with what Benny Gantz said this morning. I have read into the record exactly what he said, and I think there will be large numbers of people, both in this place and outside, who will think that what Benny Gantz said made a lot of sense.

Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)

The Cyprus maritime corridor is welcome, but it risks acting as a fig leaf for the fact that there is not enough aid getting into Gaza. The Colonna report found that the Israeli authorities had yet to provide proof of their claims that UN staff in Gaza were involved in terrorist organisations. The UN Relief and Works Agency is the only serious organisation capable of supplying aid to those Palestinians in Gaza who are innocent. Why will the British Government not follow the lead of our Australian, Canadian and European allies and reinstate funding to UNRWA?

Mr Mitchell 

As far as maritime access is concerned, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the best solution has always, from the beginning of this, been access by road. That is by far the easiest, quickest and least expensive way of getting aid to desperate people. He is entirely correct about that.

In respect of the Colonna report, we are still waiting for the Office of Internal Oversight Services report from the United Nations, and I am advised that there has been good co-operation between the United Nations and the Israeli authorities on that. On UNRWA, as I have said, we are waiting for that report. The House should expect that we will be restoring funding to ensure that humanitarian support is available through that mechanism, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on the appalling events that were revealed in connection with UNRWA staff, and we must complete the process that I set out.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)

The Israeli war Cabinet looks divided. The chief of staff is pressing for a “day after” strategy, the Defence Minister has outlined his concerns, and the former Defence Minister and chief of staff, Benny Gantz, has asked to see the Government’s post-war plan for the Gaza strip and wants it to include six strategic goals, all of which look very similar to our own goals, as my right hon. Friend has outlined. Perhaps he would care to comment. The former Defence Minister has threatened to resign if the plan is not announced by 8 June. Will he have to resign, or is there a chance that there will be a plan on which both he and we can agree?

Mr Mitchell 

I very much hope that my hon. Friend is correct in saying—and, indeed, hoping—that there will be a plan. His perceptive question shows that there are many voices in Israel, and the fact that he quotes two such senior figures—one seeking to know the “day after” strategy, and the other wanting to see a post-war plan—underlines the response I gave a moment ago to the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Sir George Howarth). We have to lift people’s eyes to the fact that this dreadful conflict will come to an end, and we will then need to have a plan to ensure that the future is very different from the past. I remind the House that the tremendous progress made in the Oslo accords took place on the back of the intifada. Out of great darkness, we must ensure that a proper plan comes forth.

Apsana Begum (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab)

Can the Minister explain how his Government can possibly justify continuing to support a military campaign that has involved the denial of electricity and basic services to civilians; the starving of civilians and the blocking of aid; the bombing of civilian infrastructure; the forced displacement of millions; the killing of journalists and aid workers; and the killing of civilians, including large numbers of children, on an unprecedented scale?

Mr Mitchell 

We do not support that. What we support is Israel’s right of self-defence, but it must be carried out within international humanitarian law.

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

There is a danger that the scope and timing of the ICC’s arrest warrants might somehow imply moral equivalence, but it is quite clear that the fighting should stop. What does the Minister think will be the impact of those warrants?

Mr Mitchell 

My hon. Friend makes a most interesting point. This smacks of an unworthy, indeed ludicrous, sense of moral equivalence between a murderous, proscribed terrorist organisation and the democratically elected Government of Israel, who are seeking to protect their citizens and recover their 124 remaining hostages.

Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)

When we talk about the role of the ICC, it is not about whether it is moral but about making sure that a democratic state falls within the rule of international law. An estimated 35,000 people have been killed and 132 hostages are still being held. The Arab League has now called for an immediate ceasefire and the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in the west bank until a two-state solution is negotiated. Will the Deputy Foreign Secretary answer the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), which he failed to answer, on the offensive in Rafah? Will we join our American allies in responding to that by stopping the sale of all war components?

Mr Mitchell 

That is not what the American Government have done. They suspended one shipment, but they have not stopped any other supply. To answer the first part of the hon. Lady’s question, the Government continue to seek a pause in the fighting, which could lead to a sustained ceasefire, as well as to getting the hostages out and aid in.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)

The Deputy Foreign Secretary speaks about a ceasefire, getting the hostages out, getting the aid in and resuming the talks, but will he address the bigger picture? Behind Hezbollah, the Houthis and Hamas sits Iran, which is arming and training these extremist non-state actors. As much as we debate the possible long-term governance and security solutions for Gaza, they are unlikely to stand the test of time until the challenge of Iran’s disruptive proxy influence across the middle east is challenged.

Iran’s destabilising foreign policy is determined by the President, the Supreme Leader and the Foreign Minister, two of whom were killed in a helicopter crash at the weekend. It is clearly for Iran to determine who replaces them, but will we advance our own robust policy in standing up to Iran’s proxy influence? Otherwise, we will never secure lasting peace in Gaza.

Mr Mitchell 

My right hon. Friend the former Chairman of the Defence Committee is right about the malign influence of Iran through its proxies—Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis—on the situation in the middle east. We hope that Iran will cease to disrupt in the way that it does through its proxies. It may well be that the events of the weekend offer an opportunity for a reset.

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

As I understand the Government’s position on the International Criminal Court, it is because Israel was not a signatory to the original treaty and because Palestine is not a sovereign state that the Government do not believe that the ICC has jurisdiction. That leads us to a place where anyone can opt out of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court at any time. That is a terrible place for the Government and for us as a country to be. If the Minister does not agree with that, will he at least agree that the letter from the 12 United States Senators to the ICC, where they said,

“Target Israel and we will target you”

and that they would ensure that

“all American support for the ICC”

is withdrawn, is not a place that this Government will ever be in?

Mr Mitchell 

Of course, the Americans are not a member of the Court, whereas the United Kingdom is. The point the hon. Gentleman makes is an important one because, in this debate about these terrible events and the appalling consequences resulting from them, it is important that everyone chooses their language with care.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)

The Deputy Foreign Secretary rightly draws attention to the false moral equivalence inherent in the ICC’s statement between the actions of sovereign, democratic Israel and the most brutal activities of a terrorist organisation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such false moral equivalence is always drawn by the enemies of Israel as a way to delegitimise the Jewish state? Does he share my concern with this move by the ICC not just because of the succour it gives terrorist groups elsewhere around the world, but because of the risks within it for ourselves and our troops as they go about defending our interests around the world?

Mr Mitchell 

My right hon. Friend expresses himself, as always, with great lucidity. It is important that that message is not sent. That is why I repeated what Benny Gantz said and why I said, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland), who is no longer in his place, that I think the sense of moral equivalence is repugnant.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)

On 5 April, the Foreign Secretary called for an independent inquiry into Israel’s killing of seven aid workers, including three Britons. I have repeatedly raised Israel’s, and particularly the Israel Defence Forces’, lack of accountability and examples of misconduct with the Minister. It is clear that here, as in other areas, the Government are backtracking on the limited assurances given, despite investigations by the BBC, among others, showing that IDF misconduct continues, despite pledges and commitments to the contrary from Israel. Does the Minister believe that Israel should investigate itself, regardless of the horrors committed—yes or no?

Mr Mitchell 

As the hon. Lady will know, Israel has the rule of law and the ability to investigate those matters, but she is entirely correct to say that the Foreign Secretary made it clear that we expect a detailed independent investigation. Israel has taken a number of steps. She will have seen the acts that were taken against those who were responsible for the decisions made in those attacks, and she will be pleased to know that we are considering, with our allies, the best way to inject further independence into that investigation.

Mark Logan (Bolton North East) (Con)

My constituents in Bolton are livid today, because they have seen through the International Criminal Court that there is evidence that

“acts were committed…to use starvation as a method of war”,

along with violence; evidence of the collective punishment of the civilian population of Gaza; and evidence that

“Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival.”

Never mind being on the right side of history; will we ensure that we are on the right side of the present?

Mr Mitchell 

The fact that the prosecutor has applied for arrest warrants to be issued does not directly impact UK licensing decisions, for example, but we will continue to monitor developments as part of our assessment process. Once again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acting as such a brilliant conduit between his constituents and the Government, and for his work on the issue.

Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)

In the face of disgraceful attacks on aid trucks at the Gaza border, the Israeli Security Minister is reported to have said that he believes it is not protesters who should be stopping the trucks, because

“it’s the cabinet that should be stopping the trucks.”

That view cannot be allowed to stand. Will the British Government sanction the violent protesters who are destroying aid, and their supporters within the Israeli Government?

Mr Mitchell 

As the hon. Lady will know, we have not been shy about sanctioning some of the settlers who have been involved. We do not talk about future sanctions across the Floor of the House, but she may rest assured that we are very alert to the opportunity for doing more on that. She repeated what had been said by one senior Israeli official about the position in Rafah; she will know that is not the position of most of the senior Israeli members of the Cabinet and it is certainly not the position of the British Government.

Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)

No organisation, international or otherwise, is beyond reproach and always gets things right, so of course we can question what the ICC has come out with. What I find disturbing is the ICC report talking about an almost exact equivalence between the leaders of Hamas, who carried out the most disgusting, brutal and deliberately targeted attacks on 7 October, and the leaders of—not a few rogue elements within—Israel. Does the Minister agree that it is important to have solid, accurate data? We keep hearing data from the Hamas-led health authority, but over the weekend we have had very different data. Does the Minister agree that it would help the debate if we had accurate data as soon as possible?

Mr Mitchell 

My hon. Friend is entirely right. He will have seen, as I have, comments over the weekend about the accuracy of figures, particularly the very great likelihood that figures about women and children who have died during the conflict are not accurate at all. His point about moral equivalence, which has been made during the statement, is one that will be widely shared, both inside and outside the House.

Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)

The International Criminal Court—the highest criminal court in the world—has applied for arrest warrants for the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, for the war crimes of murder and the deliberate targeting of civilians, crimes against humanity, and deliberate starvation as a weapon of war against the people of Gaza. It is unequivocal. Do the UK Government accept that they must now do three key things: first, they must reconsider their unequivocal support of Israel by immediately suspending arms sales; secondly, they must call for an immediate ceasefire; and finally, they must restore funding to UNRWA so that it can deliver emergency humanitarian aid?

Mr Mitchell 

On his first point, I simply do not think now is the time to make those decisions about what we have heard from the ICC. It would be premature. A pre-trial chamber now needs to consider the evidence and then reach a judgment, so I cannot go with the hon. Gentleman on that point. On UNRWA, I have made very clear where we stand. I hope the aid that was delivered by UNRWA with British support will be delivered in the future. I hope that UNRWA will be able to accept all the reforms that we are requesting that would enable us to do that. As I have said, we are not in the position that we are withholding funding at the moment because we have fully funded our commitment to UNRWA up to the start of this month. The hon. Gentleman says that we should cease our support for Israel. We have been very clear that Israel must abide within international humanitarian law, but equally that we understand that Israel has the right of self-defence.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)

In March, the Foreign Affairs Committee visited a number of aid distribution centres in the Egypt-Gaza border area, and we heard accounts of how some of the aid going into Gaza would be stopped because of the potential dual use of equipment for not just humanitarian reasons but potentially, by Hamas, military and terror reasons. Will the Minister update the House on the percentage of those trucks that are now getting through to deliver that aid?

Mr Mitchell 

The number of trucks getting through is wholly inadequate. That is one reason why we have made 12 air drops—11 by the Royal Air Force—and it is why we now have the maritime corridor. Restrictions on what can be transported by truck into Gaza were a significant problem to begin with. That particular aspect has eased as both sides have understood each other’s position on what is being taken into Gaza, but I am afraid that the amount of humanitarian support getting in by truck is still woefully inadequate.

Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)

New polling by YouGov shows that 73% of the British public support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and 55% support the UK suspending arms sales to Israel for the duration of the conflict. Does the Minister recognise that his Government are elected to represent the people of Britain, and will they finally represent the majority of the people in Britain by calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and suspending all arms sales to Israel?

Mr Mitchell 

On arms sales, the hon. Gentleman knows that it is not for the whim of a politician at the Dispatch Box to decide for or against; there is a proper process to be followed based on legal advice, and he would not expect Ministers to deviate from that entirely proper way of judging these things. We all want a ceasefire, but we want a sustainable ceasefire. That is why the Government have consistently pressed, as endorsed by a United Nations resolution, for a pause in the fighting to get the hostages out and allow aid in. That would be the way to lead to a sustainable ceasefire, as a precursor to a longer-term deal. The British Government will continue, I hope with his support and that of others on the Labour Benches, to prosecute that endeavour.

Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)

How can the Minister argue that his Government respect international law when he denies the jurisdiction of the ICC in this conflict?

Mr Mitchell 

I have not denied the position of the ICC; what I said is that we are at an early stage in the process, and cannot reach those judgments at this point.

Mrs Paulette Hamilton (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)

We must not forget that civilians and their children are the innocent victims of this war. The UN says that 800,000 people have been forced to flee Rafah since 6 May. In Gaza, there is clearly nowhere left that is safe, so will the Minister explain what he thinks the consequences should be for any all-out attack on Rafah and any forced displacement of civilians?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Lady is correct that about 800,000 people have now left Rafah. Through the pier, we managed over the weekend to get in 8,000 shelter kits, enough for around 40,000 people, but we are part of a growing consensus that is trying to provide support. The Israeli defence force warned 400,000 people to leave. Almost double that have left, and we are doing everything that we can to support them in their new locations. As I have repeatedly made clear, we will not and cannot support an attack on Rafah without seeing a detailed plan, and we have not seen a detailed plan.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)

Could the Deputy Foreign Secretary tell us in specific terms what military flights are taking off from Akrotiri to Israel? Are the Israel Defence Forces using Akrotiri? Are the US forces using Akrotiri? What is the nature of the overflying of Gaza by the RAF? Is surveillance information being sent to the IDF in response to that? In short, what is the military relationship between Britain and Israel at the present time?

Mr Mitchell 

The right hon. Gentleman is an extremely senior Member of this House, a former leader of the Labour party, and he well knows that we do not comment on security information across the Floor of the House.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

May I ask Members again to focus on the question please? Please also remember that you have to have been here for the entirety of the statement to ask a question—I am taking your word on that.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

Other countries have now suspended arms sales. Other countries have restored the funding going forward to UNRWA. Why are we now leading from behind rather than leading from the front on this? Should we not now do the right thing, suspend arms sales and refund UNRWA?

Mr Mitchell 

I think I am right in saying that no country has suspended existing arms sales arrangements and agreements, but the fact remains that we have our own regime in that respect. We act in accordance with legal advice and we will continue to do so. In respect of UNRWA, I have set out for the House the processes that we are going through and the hon. Gentleman, like me, will hope that those processes are successful.

Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)

The Deputy Foreign Secretary enjoyed referencing Mr Gantz a number of times. Mr Gantz has set out his conditions for the end of the war and a “day after”. In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesperson said:

“The conditions set by Benny Gantz are empty words whose meaning is clear: an end to the war and…establishing a Palestinian state.”

It is very clear now that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants a forever war and is opposed to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. What are the UK Government saying to Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that he understands where we and the international community stand on this issue—as do many Israelis, including members of his own Government? What action is being taken against Ben Gvir, Smotrich and the Prime Minister of Israel, who are clearly trying to prolong the war in Gaza?

Mr Mitchell 

What the hon. Gentleman says underlines the fact that Israel is a pluralist democratic society where there are different views. He asked me what the British Government are saying to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I can assure him that both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have frank, open and detailed exchanges on those matters.

Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)

It is the position of the Liberal Democrats that the UK Government should give their backing to the ICC. If the Conservative Government do not believe the ICC has jurisdiction, which international institution or legal mechanism do they intend to look to in order to ensure that any breaches of the law of war on the frontline can be prosecuted?

Mr Mitchell 

As the hon. Lady knows, we make our own judgments on international humanitarian law. We are quick to come to the House if anything changes, but nothing has changed since the Foreign Secretary made his comments in Washington, I think, in early April. On the subject of the ICC’s announcement today, I hope the House will accept that it is premature to respond further before the pre-trial chamber has considered the application for warrants.

Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)

The jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which has today applied for arrest warrants against Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Hamas leader and others, must be respected. Contrary to what the Deputy Foreign Secretary said earlier, I must correct the record for him: he said that

“we do not think that the ICC has jurisdiction in this case.”

The Israeli Government have ignored, for the past three months, the motion passed by the UK Parliament, as proposed by the Labour Party, for an immediate ceasefire and are instead planning a full-scale offensive on Rafah, which would be a humanitarian catastrophe. Can the Deputy Foreign Secretary confirm whether, if that planned assault does go ahead, the UK Government will suspend arms or component sales to Israel?

Mr Mitchell 

It is very kind of the hon. Gentleman to seek to correct the record, but his repetition of what I said was absolutely correct, and we have said it since the outset, so he should not be particularly surprised by it. I cannot foretell what the consequences will be in respect of Israeli actions, but I can tell him the position of the British Government on an operation in Rafah: that does not respect international humanitarian law, which is why we have said that we cannot support it unless we see a detailed plan.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)

Labour believes that international law must be observed. As such, we want the sale of arms and components to be suspended, and we want the perpetrators of violence against innocent civilians, whether Israeli or Palestinian, to be held to account. I am still unclear on what the Deputy Foreign Secretary and his Government believe. Do they believe in upholding international law?

Mr Mitchell 

It should come as no surprise to the House that of course the Government not only believe in international humanitarian law but seek to uphold it. I have set out clearly in the House on a number of occasions exactly how we carry out our duties in that respect, and I hope that that will give the hon. Lady confidence. In respect of the International Criminal Court, she is jumping too far ahead. We have set out the limited decision that has been made and announced today, and we should not jump ahead of it.

Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)

The Deputy Foreign Secretary said earlier that

“The House should expect that we will be restoring funding”

to UNRWA. It sounds like the Government have made up their mind. If that decision has been made, and given the absolutely horrendous humanitarian situation in Gaza, why do we not just get on with it? If there is any chance that funding will not be restored, what are the Government doing as an alternative plan to get humanitarian aid in?

Mr Mitchell 

The Government operate through other agencies as well as UNRWA. We have been very close indeed to the World Food Programme, through which an enormous amount of humanitarian aid is distributed. On UNRWA, we will go through the stages that I have set out clearly to the House. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that, from my discussions with the United Nations Secretary-General in New York just over a week ago, UNRWA is funded for the moment, and we hope that our own funding, subject to the results of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services inquiry and the implementation of the Colonna report, will be restored.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)

On the jurisdiction of the ICC, the Government’s statement is out of step not just with the prosecutor but with the impartial independent panel of experts on international law from whom he sought advice. That panel consisted largely of lawyers from this jurisdiction—by which I mean England and Wales, and not my own in Scotland. Here is what they said, and I want the Deputy Foreign Secretary to tell me what part of it is wrong:

“The Panel agrees with the Prosecutor’s assessment that the ICC has jurisdiction in relation to crimes committed on the territory of Palestine, including Gaza…under article 12(2)(a) of the ICC Statute. It also agrees that the Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed by Palestinian nationals inside or outside Palestinian territory under article 12(2)(b) of the Statute. The ICC therefore has jurisdiction over Israeli, Palestinian or other nationals who committed crimes in Gaza or the West Bank. It also has jurisdiction over Palestinian nationals who committed crimes on the territory of Israel, even though Israel is not an ICC State Party.

The basis for the Court’s jurisdiction is that Palestine, including Gaza, is a State for the purpose of the ICC Statute. The ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber has already ruled that the Court’s jurisdiction extends to Palestine, as a State Party to the ICC Statute, on this basis.”

That is the opinion of an illustrious list of mainly English lawyers, with the exception of my dear colleague Baroness Helena Kennedy, who is of course a Scot, although she is at the English Bar. Can the Deputy Foreign Secretary, who I see has one of the Law Officers sitting beside him, tell me which part of that opinion is wrong?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. and learned Lady is an immensely distinguished advocate and lawyer. She will have read the letter signed by no fewer than 600 lawyers that broadly agrees with what she has said, but she may also have read the letter from—I think—1,000 lawyers that disagrees with it. That shows that there are many different interpretations of this matter; hers is one, and as I have set out, the view of the Government is another.

Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab)

Does the Deputy Foreign Secretary not recognise the damage that is being done to the UK’s standing around the world, and to the rules-based international order and international humanitarian law, by his Government’s refusal to accept first the ICJ ruling and now that of the ICC? He has said that he does not believe that the ICC prosecutor seeking warrants will help, but at what point will he accept that the situation could not get any worse?

Mr Mitchell 

The point we have always made is that we do not think it is helpful for the Court to intervene in that way at this point, because the main purpose is to get the hostages out and food and humanitarian resources in. That is the position that the British Government take; of course we respect the Court, but that does not mean that we cannot give our view on what the Court does.

Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

I rather agreed with the comments made about the ICC by the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), but I would gently point out that I do not think there is a single Member of this House who supports the actions of Hamas on 7 October—in fact, every single one of us has rightly condemned them. For that matter, even very long-standing friends of Israel have offered criticisms of the actions of the Israeli Government over these past few months, as have many Israelis.

Can the Deputy Foreign Secretary clarify something for me? He has suggested that 800,000 Palestinians have had to move out of Rafah in the past week or so. He has also suggested that not enough humanitarian aid is getting through, which is because the Israeli Government are refusing to let it through. He has also said that the Israeli Government have a right to defend themselves—we all agree with that—but within the bounds of international humanitarian law. Who is to judge that international humanitarian law if it is not an international court? Surely it cannot just be a set of politicians sitting in the Foreign Office making it up in their own minds.

Mr Mitchell 

To respond to the hon. Gentleman’s last point, that is absolutely not the case: Ministers take legal advice, including on international humanitarian law, and act within it. We have been very clear about where we stand; the Foreign Secretary made the point in April, I think, in Washington. If anything changes, of course we will tell the House, but we cannot act on the whim of politicians or Ministers in the House: we act in accordance with the law, and that is what we will continue to do.

Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)

The Minister said earlier that the Government condemn all attacks on aid workers, and that they support the UN’s call for an independent investigation into the killing of aid workers in Gaza. Is the Minister of the same view when it comes to the more than 100 journalists who have been killed during the conflict?

Mr Mitchell 

Of course. We are appalled by the scale of the death and destruction that has taken place, and what we say about protecting journalists—which this House has always championed, never more so than when my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) was Foreign Secretary—applies equally well.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)

I have listened very carefully to the Deputy Foreign Secretary, and I have to say that I find his arguments wanting. It matters that the ICC thinks that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the actions of senior Hamas officials amount to war crimes; it matters that the ICC thinks that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the operations authorised by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Defence Minister also amount to war crimes. Given that the ICC prosecutor believes he has acted within the Rome statute and that the UK is a state party to the ICC, will the United Kingdom uphold any application in this territory if requested by the office of the prosecutor?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Gentleman is premature in seeking to ask the Government to exercise any such judgment. As I said earlier in this statement, now is not the time to make these decisions. We need to wait for the pre-trial chamber to consider the evidence and then reach a judgment.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

Any loss of innocent life is truly horrific and is to be avoided if at all possible. The latest UN reports indicate that Hamas—who are murdering terrorists, as we all know—have inflated the statistics for deaths in their areas; they have been proven to be massively overstated. What steps can be taken to ensure that we are all working with independently verified information, not propaganda, given the fact that Israel has taken greater steps than any other democracy in history to give warnings and circumvent the loss of life as far as possible in this war?

Mr Mitchell 

We do think that Israel must do more on deconfliction, but the hon. Gentleman is right that the use of Israeli lawyers in targeting and in the planning of military activity—not dissimilar from what we do in the United Kingdom—is very important. I am grateful to him for the balance that he has expressed, as he always does.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)

This country used not only to respect but to champion international law. The Minister’s dismissal of ICC procedures today confirms how far the Government have fallen from their adherence to the rule of law. Why are the Government undermining the Court and its British chief prosecutor as he attempts to call those to account for war crimes, including extermination, murder, hostage taking, starvation, targeting civilians and persecution as a crime against humanity?

Mr Mitchell 

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman putting it that way. He is an extremely distinguished lawyer, and I hope he will recognise that the point I am making is that the House is rushing to conclusions that are not merited at this stage in the process.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

Whatever opinion the Minister has on the subject of jurisdiction, the arbiters on that as a point of law will be the judges of the ICC. In the event that any or all of the warrants being sought by the chief prosecutor, as announced today, are granted, can the Minister confirm that the UK Government will render any assistance necessary for their execution? Is that not what a Government who respect the rule of law would do?

Mr Mitchell 

Of course. What I can confirm is that the British Government will always act in accordance with the law.

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP)

There is now a perception that the level of evidence the United Kingdom Government require to make a determination on whether war crimes have taken place and to act on them seems to vary with their attitude towards the country alleged to have committed those war crimes. Does the Deputy Foreign Secretary not understand the irreparable damage being done to the reputation of the United Kingdom internationally as a defender of international humanitarian law by this inconsistency?

Mr Mitchell 

I simply do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s description of what the British Government are doing. The British Government are absolutely consistent: we always act in accordance with the rule of law and will always continue to do so.

Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)

For the avoidance of any doubt among Government Members, I have opposed Hamas since 2007. I opposed their atrocities on 7 October and continue to do that, so there are no sides as far as I am concerned; I think the actions taken by the IDF need to be criticised as well, and it needs to be held to account.

The Deputy Foreign Secretary said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) that the ICC does not have jurisdiction. He said to the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara), that the pre-trial chamber has not reached a decision. He said to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) from the SNP that we have to wait and that this is not the right moment. Does he believe that the ICC has jurisdiction on this issue? Will he give a straight answer—yes or no?

Mr Mitchell 

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s condemnation, over many years, of Hamas. He has repeated what I have said to other Members of the House this afternoon and, if I have understood correctly, he is noting that I have been entirely consistent in all those responses.

Sarah Edwards (Tamworth) (Lab)

What steps are the Government taking with our international allies to help create the conditions needed for an immediate ceasefire that can be observed by both sides?

Mr Mitchell 

Britain was able, through some skilful and deft diplomacy, to get everyone onside on the United Nations resolution that was recently passed, which talked about a sustainable ceasefire. The position that Britain has always held is that we need to get that pause to enable us to get the hostages out and humanitarian supplies in, in the hope that that pause would lead to a sustainable ceasefire.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)

Neither the USA nor China nor Russia are party to the International Criminal Court. Does the Minister therefore recognise that, as permanent members of the Security Council, the UK and France have a special responsibility to support the ICC and uphold international law?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that today I have been careful to be very clear about our support for the ICC, but equally to urge the House not to rush to judgment in a process that has a number of stages.