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Shapps: UK defence exports to Israel ‘relatively small’

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The UK’s defence exports to Israel are “relatively small” and in line with the Government’s export licensing criteria, the Defence Secretary has said.

He was responding to a Labour MP who referenced the death of Palestinian civilians in the fighting in Gaza and questioned “why arms sales to Israel have not yet been suspended”.

Grant Shapps said the UK is calling on all parties, including the Israelis, to act within international law.

Labour MP Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) said that since October 7 “12,000 innocent Palestinian civilians have been killed and two-thirds are women and children”.

She asked: “Can the minister confirm whether arms sold by the UK have been used in violations of international humanitarian law? And can he explain why arms sales to Israel have not yet been suspended?”

Mr Shapps said the current situation started following attacks by Hamas, adding: “We do call on all parties, the Israelis included, to make sure they act within international humanitarian law.”

He added: “Actually, our defence exports to Israel are relatively small, just £42 million last year and… they go through a very strict criteria before anything is exported.”

He also told the House all export applications are assessed on a “case-by-case basis” and the Government will not issue any export licences to any destination where it is not consistent with its criteria.

SNP MP Dave Doogan said ministers “rightly called out the wanton and unlawful destruction of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine” and asked: “Why can they not show the same equity of uproar at what’s happening to civilians in Gaza?”

Mr Shapps said: “There’s a principle in international law that a country is able to defend itself.”

He reiterated that the Government calls on Israel to ensure it protects civilians “in whatever way they can”, but added: “Hamas are using those civilians as human shields and deliberately using the infrastructure on top to hide behind it.

“I would have thought (Mr Doogan) could see the difference.”

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood warned about “growing authoritarianism” in the world, saying: “Behind Hamas sits Iran, behind Iran sits Russia, and behind Russia increasingly sits China.”

He called on the UK to spend 3% of GDP on defence.

Mr Shapps said: “We have indeed pledged to increase defence spending to 2.5% as economic conditions allow. This year it will probably be around 2.4%, so we’re making very good progress.

“I talked about my own desire – prior to getting this particular role – to see higher defence spending, because we are living in a much less certain world with many, many more variables.”

Asked by shadow defence secretary John Healey what action is being taken to protect UK personnel in the Middle East “with attacks on US personnel rising”, Mr Shapps said: “In terms of protecting our own personnel, I have asked the chief of the defence staff to review the position of those personnel.

“I made reference to the additional personnel who have moved to the region, but didn’t mention that several have been moved to Tel Aviv, Beirut and Jordan, all with the aim of protecting both British military personnel but also British citizens in the region.”

Chief executive of Amnesty International UK, Sacha Deshmukh, said: “We need a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides of this deepening crisis, and for its part the UK must stop supplying arms and equipment to Israel given the clear risk that the weapons will be used to kill civilians in Gaza and elsewhere.”

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