Tuesday, 5 August 2014

First Interview of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi after resigning as a Foreign Office Minister

Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi has dramatically quit the government, citing the UK's "morally indefensible" position on the conflict in Gaza.
In her resignation letter to the prime minister, David Cameron, Warsi wrote that Britain's support for Israeli military action against Hamas, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 1,800 Palestinians over the past month, "is morally indefensible, is not in Britain's national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation".
Warsi's decision to quit makes hers the first ministerial resignation 'on principle' since the coalition was formed in 2010 and comes in the wake of attacks on the prime minister's handling of the Gaza crisis by Labour leader Ed Miliband - and a 72-hour humanitarian truce agreed between Israel and Hamas in Cairo on Monday evening.
Speaking exclusively to The Huffington Post UK in her first interview since resigning on Tuesday morning, the Tory peer accused the coalition of failing to act as an "honest broker" in the Middle East and called for an immediate arms embargo against Israel.
"The British government can only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker," the former Foreign Office minister said, "and at the moment I do not think it is."
Warsi was appointed by Cameron as chair of the Conservative Party and minister without portfolio in May 2010 - becoming the first Muslim to serve as a full cabinet minister. Last week, however, Channel 4 News reported that FCO officials believed Warsi had "deep reservations and concerns about government policy" on Gaza.
The Tory peer told HuffPost UK that one of the reasons she resigned on Tuesday morning, despite the signing of yet another temporary ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, was because she wanted to see those who are alleged to have committed war crimes over the past four weeks, both in Gaza and in Israel, held to account - but did not believe that the British government would support that process. "As the minister for the International Criminal Court, I’ve spent the last two and a half years helping to promote, support and fund the ICC. I felt I could not reconcile this with our continued pressure on the Palestinian leadership not to turn to the ICC to seek justice."
gaza rubble
The former Conservative Party chair, who was moved to the post of Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the September 2012 reshuffleand permitted to continue attending Cabinet, revealed in her interview with HuffPost UK that she had been struggling with the coalition's stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict since November 2012. "Our position not to recognize 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."
Now that she has quit the government, the Tory peer wants to "speak more freely" on this issue and her first demand after handing in her resignation letter is for the UK to introduce an arms embargo. "It appalls 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."
Her resignation will put further pressure on the prime minister to take a harder line against Israel's bombing and invasion of the Gaza Strip and follows interventions from an array of leading Conservative politicians who have expressed unease over mounting civilian casualties on the Palestinian side, including former Tory defence ministers Nicholas Soames and Peter Luff and influential backbencher Margot James, parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to former foreign secretary William Hague.
"I ask that the government rethinks policy towards the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories," wrote James in a (leaked) letter to Philip Hammond, Hague's successor at the Foreign Office, last week.
Warsi told HuffPost UK that she was a "long-standing supporter of Conservative Friends of Israel, and someone who fundamentally believes in Israel right to to exist and be secure" but explained that she "couldn’t sit silently by as the Israeli military committed acts that have been described by [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki Moon as 'moral outrages' and 'criminal acts' and by the French foreign minister as 'massacres'".
The peer said she was left frustrated by the UK's reluctance to strongly condemn Israel's repeated killing of civilians in Gaza - in contrast to other national governments and international bodies across the world. "The UN is 'morally outraged', the US government has called the shelling of schools as 'totally indefensible'. Meanwhile, the British government has been dragging it heels."
The former Foreign Office minister made clear she was not defending Hamas attacks on Israel. "Hamas is a terrorist organization," she told HuffPost UK, "and there can never be any excuse for it to fire rockets targeting civilians in Israel. It too must be held accountable for the misery it inflicts upon both the Israelis and the Palestinians."
However, she added, "Israel as an occupying power has a responsibility of course to protect Israelis but it also has a responsibility to protect Palestinians".
In her resignation letter, which she posted on Twitter, Warsi told the PM that her decision had not been "easy" and while he continued to have her "personal support" she had to be "able to live with myself for the decisions I took or the decisions I supported. By staying in Government at this time I do not feel I can be sure of that."
Speaking on LBC radio, London mayor Boris Johnson described Warsi's decision to stand down over Gaza as "very sad" and said he had "great respect" for her.

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