Sayeeda Warsi has resigned from government over Gaza. Photo: Getty
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Conservative minister Baroness Warsi resigns over government policy on Gaza

The government minister Sayeeda Warsi has resigned from the government over Gaza.

David Cameron's reticence over condemning Israel's actions in Gaza has been brought into sharp focus this morning as Sayeeda Warsi, Foreign Office and Faith and Communities Minister and former chairman of the Conservative party, has announced her resignation from the government in light of its policy on Gaza.

Here's her tweet confirming her resignation:

­­A Tory life peer and lawyer, Warsi was Britain's first female Muslim cabinet minister, joining the cabinet in 2010 as minister without portfolio. 

When the Conservative party was in opposition, she held the positions of shadow community cohesion minister and shadow social action minister – both roles that hinted at the party's recognition of how useful it is both for the look and culture of a party trying to modernise of having someone focused on faith, and a high-profile Muslim women's rights champion, from an ethnic minority group herself, on the frontbenches. A daughter of Pakistani immigrants, who was brought up in Yorkshire, she has described herself as a “Northern, working-class roots, urban, working mum”. In 2009, the Mail described her as "the multicultural face of the new Tory Party". 

It has often seemed to Westminster onlookers and insiders that Warsi has been promoted and retained a place in government so steadfastly partially due to the fact that it would look bad for Cameron to demote such a figure, because of what she symbolised and her unique position in the Tory upper echelons.

As commentators are currently pointing out, Cameron’s relationship with Warsi was often fraught and he may have been tempted to oust her from his frontbench due to her less-than-subtle opposition of the PM on a number of issues, and her propensity to go off-message. She has made forthright comments about immigration and religion, a memorable remark being her comparison of banning the burka to outlawing the miniskirt. She also riled the leadership recently by advocating clearing the "Eton mess" out of No 10.

Warsi was mired in an expenses row in 2012, which was said to make the PM “uncomfortable”, but was eventually cleared of the charges. It was argued at the time by some that the row was not just about expenses, but also down to her perceived unsuitability to the role of party chairman. From sources in Westminster, I have heard a few of her Tory colleagues sometimes don’t take her entirely seriously. One source recalls fooling Warsi in a Foreign Office meeting prior to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit early this year that they were obliged to welcome their foreign guest with a rendition of the German national anthem.

But regardless of individuals’ opinions of Warsi’s position in the party, they will have to take this situation seriously today. No longer can Cameron accuse Ed Miliband and the Labour party’s criticism of his silence over Gaza as playing politics; someone on his own side has now done far more than that.

Update: 5 August 10:20:

Sayeeda Warsi has tweeted a picture of her resignation letter (click to zoom in):

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Now listen to Anoosh discussing Sayeeda Warsi's resignation with Helen Lewis and George Eaton on the NS podcast:

 

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”