Tory MPs call for rethink on government Israel policy

Margot James Conservative MP Margot James is calling for a "rethink"

Prime Minister David Cameron is coming under pressure from Conservative backbenchers to take a more robust stance over Israel's actions in Gaza.

Margot James - previously regarded as a pro-Israeli voice - has condemned its "wholly disproportionate" attacks.

And former ministers Sir Peter Bottomley and Alistair Burt have also raised concerns about Israel's actions.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the government believed there had to be an unconditional ceasefire in Gaza.

Israel says it is defending itself from attacks by Palestinian militants and it blames Hamas for civilian deaths in Gaza, saying fighters deliberately operate from civilian areas.

Since Israel began its offensive in Gaza on 8 July, 1,422 Palestinians have been killed and 8,265 injured, most of them civilians, according to Gaza's health ministry.

'Just not working'

UK MPs are on their summer break, but the BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said it was clear there was growing disquiet among backbenchers.

It comes as the US government said the shelling of a UN shelter in Gaza was "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible".

Mr Burt said that statement from the US - Israel's closest ally - was "really quite extraordinary".

He stressed that he was not speaking for the UK government, but told Channel 4 News Israel's policy of "trying to get at Hamas through women and children" was "just not working and it's wrong".

Sir Peter Bottomley: "If Israel is relying on other people to be silent they will go on with the lack of proportionality, devastation and the death"

"It's not proved effective in the past, it doesn't deter Hamas, it doesn't secure the peace of Israel or of Gaza, so something more needs to be done," he said.


A former Conservative defence minister, who did not wish to be named, described the Israeli action as "disproportionate... unforgiveable and deliberate".

He called on the government to adopt a much more robust and vigorous approach in challenging Israeli actions.

Sir Peter Bottomley has written to the Israeli ambassador in London to protest against the Israeli army's treatment of Palestinians.

The letter accuses Israel of appearing to "value differently the lives of Israelis and Palestinians".

The MP said he had handed a copy of the letter to the Conservative Party's Chief Whip, Michael Gove.

Speaking on the BBC News Channel, Sir Peter said: "If Israel is relying on other people to be silent, they will go on with a lack of proportionality and the devastation and the death.

"Anyone who looks at the pictures of what is going on in Gaza, which is a very enclosed area, most know that the Israelis know what they are doing - and that what they are doing is wrong. Many Israelis know it is wrong."


Stourbridge MP Margot James, a parliamentary aide to Commons leader and former Foreign Secretary William Hague, has called on the government to "rethink" its policy, according to Channel 4 News.

In a letter to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, she wrote: "My constituents, not all of them Muslim, regard the Israeli action as wholly disproportionate to the threat posed by Hamas.

"I ask that the government rethinks policy towards the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"The scale of suffering in Gaza is far too great, the loss of life, and particularly the lives of children and other vulnerable individuals, cannot be justified on the grounds of defence in proportion to the level of threat faced by Israel from Hamas.

"I also think that we should make it clear that it is unacceptable for Israel to just dismiss US proposals for peace without any debate whatsoever."

'Rockets and tunnels'

Questioned about Ms James' call for a rethink, an aide to Mr Hammond told BBC News: "The foreign secretary and the prime minister have been very clear that we need unconditional ceasefire and that needs to happen immediately."

A Foreign Office spokesman later said the UK was "deeply concerned about the current situation" and that "all our efforts" must be focused on achieving a ceasefire.

"Israel has the right to defend itself, but must do so in a way that complies with international law," the spokesman added.

"After a ceasefire has been agreed, we can then move to more substantive discussions on the underlying issues, including Israeli restrictions on Gaza, the conditions in Gaza and the threats to Israel from rockets and tunnels."

A car under the wreckage of a building Israel says its target is Hamas, but Gaza's health ministry says most victims have been civilians

Tensions rose after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank last month, then a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and killed in Jerusalem on 2 July.

Israeli air strikes on Gaza and rocket fire from Gaza into Israel - for which Islamist group Hamas claimed responsibility - increased, and on 8 July Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, which it said was aimed at stopping rocket attacks and destroying Hamas' capabilities.

Israel says it will not stop its operation in Gaza until all the tunnels - which militants use to infiltrate Israeli territory - have been destroyed.

A senior Israeli official has told the BBC that 70-80% of Hamas' offensive tunnel network into Israel has been "neutralised", but said the operation would not stop until all had been destroyed.

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Politics Live

    07:32: Your say

    A selection of comments from Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    Rather than what broadcasters or what political parties want regarding debates, what about what the electorate wants?

    The debates at the last election and the Scottish referendum debates were widely watched and helped reconnect the public with the political process. They took leaders out of their ivory towers and made them more accountable to the people they are supposed to lead.

    Cameron refusing to take part in debates shows his contempt for this process and a fear of public scrutiny. I really think the Tories have made a major error of judgement here, the electorate will not be gentle.

    Ged Roddam

    The prime minister has stated he only wants one debate. It is not the broadcasters who should pressurise otherwise. They need to respect his position on this, as do the other parties who are name calling.

    Broadcasters would not be pressurising the CEO of a large company on how to run their business...

    Sara Brewer

    Do you agree? Email is with your views.

    @rosschawkins Ross Hawkins, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Lib Dem view on debates is they'll do them even if not happy about format. Will broadcasters - as they've suggested - go ahead without PM?

    @PickardJE Jim Pickard, Financial Times

    tweets: Alastair Campbell is outraged by Cameron wriggling from TV debates. Reminded he blocked Blair from doing so in 1997 he tells #today: "True."

    07:22: One man debate? BBC Radio 4 Today

    Asked if Ed Miliband should offer to take part in a debate alone, Alastair Campbell says it's a "tactical judgement", but Mr Miliband should "probably" press ahead without David Cameron. It's the interest of both the Labour Party and the country as a whole that an Ed Miliband v David Cameron takes place, Mr Campbell adds.

    @Kevin_Maguire Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror associate editor

    tweets: TV election debates are important in principle. If we adopt a written constitution, put them in alongside secret ballots and spending caps

    07:15: Campbell on TV debates BBC Radio 4 Today

    Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications, says David Cameron's decision to only take part in one TV debate is "democratically wrong and morally cowardly". He says Mr Cameron should be honest about why he doesn't want to take part - "he just doesn't want to do them", Mr Campbell says.

    07:11: One-on-one debate? Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Is it possible for a "one-on-one" debate to go ahead with just one person? Labour thinks so, our political correspondent reports. The party will insist the plan is credible and could lead to Ed Miliband taking part in a debate with a presenter.

    "If that were to happen, David Cameron would be pursued by a man in a chicken costume throughout the campaign, I'm certain of that", our correspondent adds.

    07:06: Telegraph on debates The Daily Telegraph

    The Telegraph has penned an editorial which says the televised discussions are good for democracy. The paper argues the debates would "inject some much-needed spontaneity and excitement into the stage-managed, safety-first election campaigning". The piece says broadcasters now need to work together to make sure "some sort of debate" does take place.

    Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    tweets: Labour say Ed Miliband will still take part in Ch4//Sky head to head debate without the PM

    @NickyMorgan01 Nicky Morgan, minister for women

    tweets: Looking forward to today's #CWIB2015. Bringing together ambitious business women for masterclasses and mentoring. #womensday

    06:55: 'Move Parliament to Manchester' The Guardian

    Earlier this week, we reported Commons Speaker John Bercow saying the Houses of Parliament may have to be "abandoned" within 20 years without extensive repair work. There have been a number of suggestions on possible alternatives. Today, Simon Jenkins writes in the Guardian that Parliament should be moved to Manchester, arguing it would be good for democracy.

    06:51: Broadcasters 'pressing ahead' Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    "Talking to some of those involved last night, my impression at the moment, is the broadcasters are intent on toughing this one out... They do not think that one 90-minute debate involving eight parties in the next fortnight or so is acceptable. They do not think it is acceptable one party should have the power to veto what goes ahead. As things stand they are intent on pressing ahead with the debates as currently scheduled."

    06:42: Cameron's debate plans Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Our correspondent has been analysing last night's big debate news.

    The effect is to swing a huge wrecking ball in the direction of the broadcasters' plans for these TV debates, he says. It may demolish all hopes for a debate to be held, or may leave one "paltry" 90-minute debate later this month.

    The clear view of Downing Street is that this is the fault of broadcasters, who they accuse of coming forward with proposals without consultation, to a timetable that was never going to be acceptable, and of failing to get the parties to get together for meaningful negotiations, our correspondent says.

    06:39: TV debate reaction

    There is plenty of reaction around to Downing Street's one-debate proposal. Including this, which leaves little doubt as to where the Huffington Post stands on the issue.

    06:30: Scotland Ashcroft poll

    In other political news you may have missed from last night, a poll suggested the SNP could win Gordon Brown's seat - Kircaldy and Cowdenbeath - at the election in May. The poll by Lord Ashcroft also suggested Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader, could also lose his seat to the nationalists. It's the latest polling which suggests the SNP could make significant gains on 7 May.

    06:25: The papers
    Daily Telegraph front page - 05/03/15

    Downing Street's announcement that the prime minister will only take part in one TV debate ahead of the election features in several papers, with The Daily Telegraph describing it as an "ultimatum" to broadcasters. The BBC's Alex Kleiderman has the full round-up of the nationals here.

    06:20: Child benefit changes? BBC Newsnight BBC Two, 22:30

    The BBC has learned the Conservatives are considering limiting child benefit to three children. As Newsnight reported last night, the Treasury has "softened" to the idea, which could save an estimated £300m a year.

    06:15: Debate bombshell

    In case you missed it, there was a significant development last night on the TV leaders debates, after Downing Street wrote to broadcasters to make a "final offer" of only one debate with seven, possibly eight, leaders. Other parties criticised the PM, accusing him of "acting like a chicken" and the broadcasters have said they will respond to the proposal in due course. Expect more reaction on this story this morning.

    06:10: Good morning

    Hello and welcome to a fresh Thursday's political coverage. Nick Eardley and Matthew Davis will bring you all the action, reaction and analysis in text and you'll be able to watch and listen to all the main BBC political programmes, from Today and Breakfast through to Newsnight and Today in Parliament. Don't forget you can get in touch by emailing or via social media @bbcpolitics. Here's how Wednesday unfolded.



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