Alan Duncan facing Tory disciplinary inquiry over comments accusing senior party figures of being too ‘pro-Israel’ – UK politics live | Politics

Tory HQ launches disciplinary probe into Alan Duncan over comments accusing senior party figures of being too pro-Israel

Sir Alan Duncan, the former MP and former minister, is being investigated by the Conservative party over his comments attacking Tom Tugendhat and other senior figures in the party he accused of being too pro-Israel, Eleni Courea reports.

NEW – Senior Tory official says Alan Duncan will be investigated for these remarks under the party’s disciplinary process https://t.co/I0JTfM0aj0

— Eleni Courea (@elenicourea) April 4, 2024

NEW – Senior Tory official says Alan Duncan will be investigated for these remarks under the party’s disciplinary process

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Key events

Afternoon summary

  • At least 50 Labour MPs have called for the UK to halt arms sales to Israel, according to an analysis of their public statements by Momentum, the leftwing group. The Momentum co-chair, Kate Dove, said:

Israel’s murder of aid workers in Gaza represents one more war crime in a long list of atrocities. It is no wonder, then, that a majority of voters find it unconscionable that the UK continues to send weapons to Israel, a state on trial for genocide, or that 600 leading lawyers find it illegal.

Yet while the SNP and Lib Dems have called for a suspension of arms sales, the Labour Leadership has not. We must exert maximum pressure on Sunak and Cameron to finally do the right thing – that means Keir Starmer and David Lammy speaking up for an immediate suspension of arms sales to Israel.

Green party co-leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay at their local election campaign launch in Bristol today. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA
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Gove says he showed ‘moral cowardice’ by not being upfront with Cameron about role he might play in pro-Brexit campaign

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has admitted that he showed “moral cowardice” in 2016 by not being upfront with David Cameron about how he might play a leading role in the pro-Brexit campaign.

The two men had been close friends before the campaign started, and Cameron felt betrayed because Gove told him that, although he would be supporting leave, he would not be playing a prominent role in the Vote Leave campaign.

Gove made the admission in an interview with the Political Currency podcast, hosted by George Osborne, the former chancellor, and Ed Balls, the former shadow chancellor.

According to a report in the Times, Osborne put it to Gove that he played down his intention to play a prominent role in the leave campaign when he told Cameron that he would not back remain. Asked if he deceived Cameron, Gove replied: “He certainly felt betrayed.”

Gove said that he had not intended at that point to play a prominent role in the leave campaign. But he got more involved than he expected, he said, partly because Dominic Cummings, the Vote Leave campaign director, told him that unless he agreed to do TV campaign events, he would be letting his colleagues down, and Nigel Farage would feature instead.

Gove went on:

I didn’t believe I deceived [Cameron], but as I mentioned, I do think that I could have been clearer earlier.

And I think that was an example of on the one hand, cowardice on my part, moral cowardice … on the other hand, a recognition that perhaps there’s this feeling in politics, perhaps something will turn up, perhaps this moment won’t come when we have to make that decision.

But I think David entirely fairly, should have expected me to have been more upfront earlier.

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The Conservative party is not commenting on its investigation into Sir Alan Duncan. (See 2.21pm.) Duncan himself has been told a discplinary inquiry is under way. It is expected that it will take about two weeks, and it could lead to Duncan being expelled from the party.

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Yousaf says he is ‘very, very concerned’ about large number of vexatious complaints being made under new hate crime law

Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, has said he is “very, very concerned” by the number of “vexatious” complaints lodged under the country’s new hate crime law in its early days – but not surprised.

As PA Media reports, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into effect on Monday, prompting thousands of complaints in its first few days, including some against Humza Yousaf himself, according to reports.

Speaking to journalists today, Yousaf said:

It’s not a huge surprise that when legislation is first introduced there can sometimes be a flurry of vexatious complaints.

We’ve obviously seen that and I would say to people don’t make vexatious complaints – you should desist – because what you’re doing is wasting precious police resources and time.

But I am very, very concerned about the fact that we have seen those complaints, but at the same time I know that police are very adept at dealing with vexatious complaints, they do it every day and they know how to treat them.

The Act – which consolidates existing hate crime legislation and creates an offence of stirring up hatred against certain protected characteristics – came into force in the week leading up to an Old Firm game – the most highly-charged football fixture in Scotland.

The law has a “very high criminal threshold”, Yousaf said, with an offence required to be threatening or abusive and the accused having to intend to stir up hatred, adding he had “every confidence” in the police to handle Old Firm games.

As PA reports, Yousaf also hit out at Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who both voted in favour of the bill in 2021, claiming they had “run for the hills” when it comes to defending the legislation in public.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said this week he would not repeal the Act if he was first minister, but would amend it to include sex as a protected characteristic – a move the Scottish government decided against in favour of a standalone bill outlawing misogyny.

Humza Yousaf during a visit today to Dingwall and Highland Mart in Dingwall in The Highlands. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA
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Sir Alan Duncan, the Tory former Foreign Office minister, escalated his attack on senior Conservatives in an interview with Times Radio. Elaborating on points he made in his LBC interview (see 11.51am), Duncan claimed that some senior Conservatives were “extremists” because, he said, they condoned Israeli settlements on the West Bank. He said:

Now, all of the top of the party, the likes of [Robert] Jenrick, [Suella] Braverman, [Michael] Gove, [Oliver] Dowden, [Tom] Tugendhat, [Priti] Patel – they don’t believe the settlements are illegal, and that means I think we’re entitled to call them extremists. They should be called out.

In the interview, recorded before CCHQ announced it was launching an inquiry into his comments (see 2.21pm), Duncan also claimed that comments made by Braverman today (see 10.12am) were “repulsive”. He said:

For Suella Braverman today, to say that there is not a humanitarian problem in Gaza and there’s plenty of food and she’s seen the photographs. Frankly, it is so disgusting, so repulsive, so repellent that I think she should immediately have the whip withdrawn.

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A reader asks:

Do we know what type of armaments we sell to Israel? Do we know which companies are selling arms and the cost of exports? Or is all this an official secret?

Most of this information is not secret. Here is an extract from a Commons library briefing paper on arms exports to Israel.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a UK based pressure group that seeks an end to the global arms trade, has created a searchable database using government data. CAAT data shows the UK granted licences worth £574 million for companies to export to Israel since 2008, the year countrylevel data was first made available.

A significant proportion of this total was in 2017, when £221 million worth of licences were approved. CAAT says the single biggest licence in value, worth £182 million, was issued in October 2017, for “technology for military radars”. Analysis by CAAT shows many of the licences granted were for components for military radars, electronic warfare and targeting equipment. Licences were also granted for components of aircraft and helicopters.

And here is a page from the CAAT database covering exports to Israel. It is a good tool, and you can search it using a range of filters.

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Tory peer Nicholas Soames joins calls for UK to stop arming Israel

The Conservative peer Nicholas Soames has joined calls for the UK to stop arming Israel after an airstrike killed seven aid workers in Gaza, Eleni Courea reports. Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, said the UK should send a “message” about Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Soames told the Guardian:

I say this with real sadness because, I mean, first of all, what happened [to the aid workers killed in the Israeli airstrike] was an absolute tragedy, and secondly, it was absolutely inexcusable.

This is not a fog of war issue with these [aid workers]. They were quite clearly – the whole thing had been deconflicted, organised, everything, and something has gone very, very wrong, and the Israelis need to really get a grip of all this.

And secondly, these people were doing the most wonderful work to provide aid to starving Palestinians … I think it is the message that matters.

Eleni’s full story is here.

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Tory HQ launches disciplinary probe into Alan Duncan over comments accusing senior party figures of being too pro-Israel

Sir Alan Duncan, the former MP and former minister, is being investigated by the Conservative party over his comments attacking Tom Tugendhat and other senior figures in the party he accused of being too pro-Israel, Eleni Courea reports.

NEW – Senior Tory official says Alan Duncan will be investigated for these remarks under the party’s disciplinary process https://t.co/I0JTfM0aj0

— Eleni Courea (@elenicourea) April 4, 2024

NEW – Senior Tory official says Alan Duncan will be investigated for these remarks under the party’s disciplinary process

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Would withdrawal from the ECHR require legislation?

A reader asks:

I was thinking that a bill to leave the EHCR would take time to draft and approve by the HoC, putting any potential withdrawal beyond the next general election. Is there any mechanism available to the prime minster to bypass parliament to give notice to withdraw from the ECHR in the quickest possible timeframe?

No one expects for a moment that Rishi Sunak would try to withdraw the UK from the European convention on human rights before the general election. Even if he wanted to, according to this briefing by Sir Jonathan Jones, a former head of the government’s legal department, any country that wants to leave has to give six months’ notice. With an election likely in October or November, Sunak would be leaving it a bit late.

But the question as to whether the government needs legislation to leave the ECHR is an interesting one, and there is no clear answer. Here is an extract from a House of Commons library briefing covering this topic.

It is not certain whether leaving the ECHR would require legislation and parliamentary approval; it would depend on whether leaving without legislation (using prerogative powers) would alter or frustrate existing legislation.

Legal powers used under the royal prerogative do not require parliamentary authority.

Prerogative powers relating to territory and diplomacy have long formed the basis for the conduct of British foreign policy, together with certain statutory powers. They include the power to make and ratify treaties.

A decision to withdraw from a treaty such as the ECHR would therefore arguably come within the foreign affairs prerogative and thus could be taken by the Government without the need for parliamentary approval.

However, through case law the courts have developed a principle that the foreign affairs prerogative cannot be used to alter domestic law, frustrate the purpose of any statute, suspend its operation, or remove statutory rights.

After going into more detail, the briefing paper says recent case laws makes it likely that legislation would be needed.

But the authors of the briefing paper are focusing on the legal position. In political terms, it would be very hard to imagine any PM trying to take the UK out of the ECHR without legislation because people would expect full parliamentary authority for such a momentous move.

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Sir Alan Duncan, the former Conserative Foreign Office minister, criticised Conservative Friends of Israel this morning, saying it had too much influence on the government. (See 11.51am.) In interviews, he also said that the UK should no longer treat Israel as an ally. “They have been in breach of international law for many decades and now they are basically starving to death two million people,” he said.

On Radio 4’s the World at One Theresa Villiers, a vice chair of Conservative Friends of Israel and a former cabinet minister,, was asked what she thought of Duncan’s comments about the country. She replied:

I disagree very strongly with Alan Duncan. Israel is an ally, it’s an important ally, and we should continue to support Israel in exercising its right to defend itself from a truly horrific terrorist attack.

Asked about claims that Israel was deliberately obstructing the supply of food aid to Gaza, Villiers said she did not accept that at all. She explained:

There is no sense in which there is any deliberate policy to starve people in Gaza.

There is aid getting in. And clearly there are problems with distribution. Clearly the aid needs to continue to go in and it needs to increase … But allegations that they’re somehow deliberately seeking to deprive people of supplies and to starve them out is just untrue. It really is.

She also said what Israel was doing was “a proportionate response to a horrific terrorist attack”.

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