Baroness Warsi, the senior Foreign Office minister, has resigned from the government in protest at its policy on Gaza, describing it as “morally indefensible”.
Warsi announced her departure on Twitter yesterday, saying: “With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on Gaza.”
In her resignation letter, Warsi said the government’s “approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically”.
She said the UK’s stance was “not consistent with the rule of law and our long support for international justice”, adding: “The British government can only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker and at the moment I do not think it is.”
The chancellor, George Osborne, hit back immediately, saying her decision was unnecessary and insisting that ministers were committed to working to secure peace in the region.
“This a disappointing and frankly unnecessary decision,” he said. “The British government is working with others in the world to bring peace to Gaza and we do now have a tentative ceasefire which we all hope will hold.”
But Labour leader Ed Miliband said Warsi had acted with “principle and integrity” and urged Mr Cameron to re-think his position.
“I hope that David Cameron will reflect on what she says in her resignation letter and change his approach,” he told BBC News. “He needs to break his silence and say that Israel’s actions have been unjustified and indefensible. He needs to show that he can be even-handed and, without fear or favour, argue for the long-term solution that we need to this tragic conflict.”
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Warsi said: “Our position not to recognise Palestinian statehood at the UN in November 2012 placed us on the wrong side of history and is something I deeply regret not speaking out against at the time.”
The Tory peer said that, having now stood down, she wanted to “speak more freely” on the issue and her first demand after handing in her resignation letter was for the UK to introduce an arms embargo against Israel.
“It appals me that the British government continues to allow the sale of weapons to a country, Israel, that has killed almost 2,000 people, including hundreds of kids, in the past four weeks alone. The arms exports to Israel must stop.”
Warsi was known to have been unhappy with David Cameron’s failure to unequivocally condemn Israel’s incursion into Gaza or the mounting death toll.
On Monday, the prime minister’s spokesman refused to say if Israel was behaving disproportionately or doing enough to prevent civilian casualties.
Responding to the resignation, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The prime minister regrets that Baroness Warsi has decided to stand down and is grateful for the excellent work that she has done, both as a minister and in opposition.
“Our policy has always been consistently clear – the situation in Gaza is intolerable and we’ve urged both sides to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.”
Warsi became the first Muslim to sit in the cabinet when she was made Conservative party co-chair by Cameron after the 2010 general election. She was subsequently moved to the post of minister of state at the Foreign Office and minister for faith and communities in the prime minister’s 2012 reshuffle – a move widely regarded as a demotion.
Warsi has been increasingly critical of Israel’s behaviour. She recently tweeted: “Can people stop trying to justify the killing of children. Whatever our politics there can never be justification, surely only regret.”
There was a high-level campaign to remove Warsi before last month’s reshuffle, particularly after she appeared on ITV’s The Agenda and posed with a mock front page about the “Eton Mess” at the top of the government.
Warsi is known to be keeping a diary and there have been fears she will publish it before the election in an effort to expose the upper-class coterie in Cameron’s inner circle.
Prominent Conservatives, such as the commentator Tim Montgomerie, pointed out that she had previously shown support for Hamas.
-The Guardian Online