Israel arms sales: UK government minister defends ‘long-standing convention’ to not publish legal advice

Gareth Davies says legal advice is “confidential” but Labour accuses the government of keeping MPs “in the dark”.
A minister appears to have ruled out the government publishing legal advice over whether Israel has breached international law in Gaza as pressure mounts for an arms sales ban.

Gareth Davies, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News there was a “longstanding convention” that prevents the government from making public any advice it receives from lawyers.

The Labour Party has demanded the government publish the advice after seven aid workers, including three British volunteers, were killed in an airstrike earlier this week, while the Liberal Democrats and the SNP have gone further in calling for arms exports to Israel to be blocked.

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Ministers have also been warned that if the legal advice finds Israel has broken international law, then the UK government would be obliged to suspend arms exports.

But speaking to Sky News this morning, Mr Davies appeared to rule out the prospect of sharing such advice publicly, saying it was “confidential”.

He said the UK had “one of the most robust systems of arms export controls in the world,” and the government had a “series of responsibilities to ensure that any licences that are granted by the government cannot in any way be contributing or facilitating violations of international humanitarian law”.

“There are robust processes in place to gather evidence to assess that, as well as advice that the government receives, and that advice is being constantly reviewed,” he added.

But pressed on whether the advice should be published, he said: “We have a long-standing convention that we do not do that.”

Mr Davies’ words come despite warnings from three former Supreme Court justices in a 17-page letter that called the present situation in Gaza “catastrophic”.

The letter warned that – given the International Court of Justice’s opinion that there is a plausible risk of genocide – the UK government is legally obliged to act to help prevent it.

Signed by more than 600 lawyers and academics, it warned that “the sale of weapons and weapons systems to Israel… falls significantly short of your government’s obligations under international law”.

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