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Britain’s Labour party on Wednesday stepped up its calls on the Tory government to publish its legal advice on Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, although the party has not committed to do so if it wins the general election.

David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, urged ministers to suspend arms sales to Israel if lawyers had found “clear risk” of serious breaches of international law in Gaza as he stepped up his demand for Lord Cameron, the foreign secretary, to publish the advice.

“David Cameron and Rishi Sunak must now come clean and publish the legal advice they have received,” he said. 

Pressure has increased on the UK government to respond to air strikes by the Israeli forces in Gaza that killed seven aid workers, including three UK citizens, from the charity World Central Kitchen on Monday.

Sunak called on the Israeli government to carry out an urgent investigation into the incident while the Scottish National Party called for parliament to be recalled.

“This situation demands that the prime minister comes to parliament without further delay to outline the UK government’s response to the killing of UK citizens by Israel . . . so that Parliament can finally debate and vote on ending arms sales to Israel,” the SNP said in a letter to Sunak, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. 

Earlier this week, Alicia Kearns, the Tory chair of the foreign affairs select committee, claimed ministers had been told by their lawyers that Israel had violated international humanitarian law in its offensive on Gaza, in which more than 32,000 people have been killed, according to Hamas officials. 

But while Labour on Wednesday called on the government to publish the advice, it refused to say if it would publish that legal advice if it won the election expected later this year.

“It’s quite a hypothetical question,” said one party aide. “There’s no election for many months so the situation and the legal advice is likely to have changed. We’re saying the current legal advice should be published now because of the exceptional circumstances.”

Cameron said a month ago that he would get new legal advice “in the coming days” but there has been no update since then. “It is totally wrong that the foreign secretary has gone silent,” said Lammy. 

David Lammy
David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, said: ‘David Cameron and Rishi Sunak must now come clean and publish the legal advice they have received.’  © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Former prime minister Tony Blair sparked one of the biggest controversies of his premiership when he refused to publish legal advice in 2003 regarding the Iraq war.

The current government has opted to publish legal advice on international matters several times since 2010. These include on the possibility of intervening in the conflict in Syria in 2013, on the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit withdrawal agreement in 2018 and last year on the bill being drawn up for the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The UK has conducted several legal assessments over whether Israel is complying with international law since the war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 attack, which killed about 1,200 people according to Israeli officials. These determine whether the government can continue to grant licences for the export of arms to Israel, which amounted to £42mn in 2022. 

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