Senior Tories round on Warsi’s resignation as PM reveals she did not speak to him about Gaza concerns before quitting
4:35PM BST 05 Aug 2014
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George Osborne has condemned Baroness Warsi’s “disappointing and frankly unnecessary” decision to resign over the situation in Gaza, as it emerged she had not told the Prime Minister about her concerns beforehand.
Lady Warsi, Britain’s first female Muslim Cabinet minister, announced her resignation on Twitter on Tuesday morning, calling Britain’s policy on Gaza “morally indefensible”.
In her resignation letter, she was also highly critical of David Cameron’s recent reshuffle, making reference to the sackings of Ken Clarke, the former minister without portfolio, and Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general.
She criticised the manner in which Philip Hammond, the new Foreign Secretary and her superior, formulates policy.
David Cameron revealed she had not spoken to him about her concerns before she resigned.
Mr Hammond said the decision was a “surprise” given Israeli forces are withdrawing from Gaza, saying they had discussed the crisis at length over the weekend.
The Chancellor immediately hit out at her decision, which took the Government by surprise, and said that ministers are “working with others in the world to bring peace to Gaza”.
“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 now have a tentative ceasefire which we all hope will hold.”
Mr Osborne added: “We have made it clear that we want to see restraint on all sides, we want to see a ceasefire on all sides. We are working to bring that about. Today there is a prospect of a brief ceasefire, but we want to see that permanent.”
The Chancellor’s comments highlight the growing tensions that existed between senior Cabinet ministers and Lady Warsi in the months ahead of her resignation.
David Cameron said he was “sorry” about her decision, but used a public letter to reveal that she had not told him of her intention to resign.
“I realise that 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,” he said.
Defending Britain’s policy on Gaza, he said: “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.
“As part of that, we have consistently called for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.”
Philip Hammond questioned the timing of Lady Warsi’s resignation, saying they had spoken “a great deal” over the weekend and Israeli forces are withdrawing from Gaza as a ceasefire takes hold.
“Sayeeda and I have talked a great deal about her concerns, including a long conversation over the weekend, but we’ve seen some progress over the last 24 hours.
“Everybody has to answer for their own conscience for their own actions, but I find it rather surprising that she’s chosen now, this particular moment, to take this stand, when in fact we are now at long last seeing some relief,” he said.
In a rejection of her demands for vocal British condemnation of Israel, he said pushing for a ceasefire required British diplomats to be “dispassionate.”
“To my colleagues who say ‘Can you do a bit more megaphone diplomacy over here or over there, offend one side or the other side a bit more?’, I say, it is more important to achieve the result.”
Michael Howard, the former Tory leader, said her resignation was a “great loss” but backed the Government, saying: “If our Government wants to have any influence in bringing about a lasting peace settlement in the Middle East, it has to be very cautious and circumspect and measured in what it says.”
Writing on Twitter, Lady Warsi said: “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 presented to the Prime Minister Lady Warsi said the British response to the crisis in Gaza will have a long term “detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically”.
She appeared to suggest that Britain’s support for Israel could encourage extremism in the UK. Home Office evidence suggested that Britain’s response to the Gaza crisis risked “becoming a basis for radicalisation [that] could have consequences for us for years to come”, she wrote.
The letter indicates Lady Warsi’s wider disgruntlement at the way David Cameron runs his administration.
She wrote: “For some weeks, in meetings and discussions, I have been open and honest about my views on the conflict in Gaza and response to it.
“My view has been that our policy in relation to the Middle East Peace Process generally but more recently our 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 suggested the Israeli government should face international trial for alleged war crimes, but feared the British Government would not support that position. She wrote in the letter: “Particularly as the Minister with responsibility for the United Nations, The International Criminal Court and Human Rights, I believe our approach in relation to the current conflict is neither consistent with our values, specifically our commitment to the rule of law and our long history of support for international justice.”
Speaking afterwards, she told the Huffington Post website: “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.”
In a thinly-veiled attack on Mr Cameron’s reshuffle, she said: “”In many ways the absence of the experience and expertise of colleagues like Ken Clarke and Dominic Greive has over the last few weeks become very apparent,” she added.
She also expressed concern at the way the Foreign Office is run. William Hague had “dismantled foreign policy making by sofa government and restored decision making and dignity to the Foreign Office.”
But in what may be interpreted as a criticism of Philip Hammond, Hague’s successor and her new boss, she wrote: “There is however great unease across the Foreign Office, amongst both Ministers and senior officials, in the way recent decisions are being made.”
Lady Warsi, who had the right to attend Cabinet, had become increasingly uncomfortable with Israel’s military action in Gaza and the British government’s response to it.
In recent days she had used Twitter to ask for details of protests, and in one message wrote: “Can people stop trying to justify the killing of children. Whatever our politics there can never be justification, surely only regret.”
Lady Warsi held the position of Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and Minister for Faith and Communities at the Department for Communities and Local Government.
She was previously Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister without Portfolio, having joined the Cabinet in 2010.
Douglas Alexander, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “Most reasonably minded people across Britain will agree with the sentiments expressed by Baroness Warsi in her resignation statement today.
“It is a sad reflection of the Prime Minister’s misjudgement of the crisis in Gaza that this capable Minister has felt the need to leave the Government.”
Labour has condemned the Israeli incursion into Gaza and called the Prime Minister’s reticence “inexplicable”.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said the news was “very sad” and hoped she return to Government “as soon as possible.”
After making a speech on immigration, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said that it was “the first I have heard of it”.
Mr Clegg said that it was an “open secret” that there were “different opinions” among ministers “in reaction to bloodshed in Gaza”.
He said that despite being a self-proclaimed Zionist, he regards the Israeli action in Gaza as “ugly disproportionate and tragic” and will harm Israel in the long-term.
Lady Warsi attended Birkdale High School and Dewsbury College, and studied law at the University of Leeds.
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