Labour backs ICC independence over Gaza in split with Tories

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Britain’s opposition Labour party has backed the independence of the International Criminal Court after it sought arrest warrants for both Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes, opening up a big divide with the ruling Conservative party over the war is Gaza.

David Lammy, shadow foreign secretary, said the party “supports the ICC as a cornerstone of the international legal system . . . whether it is in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria or Gaza”.

A spokesperson for the Conservative government said earlier on Monday that the ICC’s intervention would not “help get hostages out, get aid in, or deliver a sustainable ceasefire”.

Labour has largely kept step with the government’s position on the conflict to date, something that has cost it support among some voters who have seen its position as an endorsement of Israel.

In a barb at the ruling Conservative party, Lammy added: “Does the Conservative party, the party of Churchill . . . believe in international rule of law or not?”

Andrew Mitchell, a Foreign Office minister, told the Commons: “We do not think the ICC has jurisdiction in this case, the UK has not recognised Palestine as a state and Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute.” 

UK government officials privately hit out at the ICC’s suggestion of “moral equivalence” between Hamas chiefs and Israeli leaders.

“That’s unhelpful and also wrong. It’s up to the opposition to answer how they think that’s justified,” said one official, expressing surprise over Labour’s reaction.

In his remarks to the Commons, Lammy defended the independence of the court.

“Arrest warrants are not a conviction or determination of guilt but they do reflect the evidence and judgment of the prosecutor about the grounds for individual criminal responsibility,” he said. “Democracies who believe in the rule of law must submit themselves to it.” 

Labour has been criticised by some traditional Labour supporters for only gradually shifting the party’s position towards supporting an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

That stance led to 10 frontbenchers quitting last November, and was blamed for a handful of disappointing results in this month’s local elections in some areas with big Muslim populations. 

Labour last month stepped up its calls on the Tory government to publish its legal advice on Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza strip, and urged ministers to suspend arms sales to the country if lawyers found “clear risk” of serious breaches of international law in Gaza. 

Mitchell told parliament that the ICC’s decision would not have an immediate impact on the government’s approval of licences so companies can sell weapons to Israel. “The fact that the prosecutor has applied for arrest warrants to be issued does not directly impact, for example, on UK licensing decisions but we will continue to monitor developments,” he said.

After the initial October 7 attacks by Hamas on Israeli territory, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer expressed solidarity with Israel. He was criticised for suggesting that the Israeli government had the right to cut off water and power supplies to Gaza, a comment he later retracted. 

As the Palestinian casualties mounted from the ensuing Israeli military strikes, Starmer initially held off calling for an “immediate” ceasefire in favour of a “sustainable” one — a position that he dropped in February. 


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