Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are pushing for suspending arms export licences to Israel. Photo: Getty
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Lib Dems pile the pressure on David Cameron over Gaza

Following the resignation of a Tory minister, the PM’s coalition partners are now calling for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel

As David Cameron soothes his nerves through his favourite form of escapism – pointing at fish at a Portuguese fish market – his coalition colleagues have piled on the pressure already mounting on him to clarify his stance on Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The Liberal Democrats are now calling for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel, a significant addition to the rebellious voices in Cameron’s own party – the loudest of which was Sayeeda Warsi, who dramatically resigned from his government yesterday, calling his position “morally indefensible”.

Both the Times and Independent are splashing this morning with stories about how the minister’s resignation has opened the floodgates for senior Tory figures criticising the PM’s reticence over condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza. He so far has called the actions “intolerable”, but has not used the word “disproportionate” – as Boris Johnson was quick to use yesterday, eclipsing Cameron’s stance.

The Independent reports a “mutiny among senior Tory MPs last night as they lined up to condemn his [Cameron’s] handling of the Gaza crisis and to warn his stance was alienating millions of British Muslims”, and the Times’ frontpage headline is “Tory war over Gaza”. It reports that Cameron is “struggling to contain a growing revolt”, and also describes a “pincer movement from Labour and the Liberal Democrats”.

Ed Miliband has repeatedly called upon Cameron to take a firmer stance, deploring his “inexplicable silence” on the subject. And now the Lib Dems are differentiating themselves from the Tory coalition leaders and adding a fresh voice to the cacophony already condemning Cameron. Nick Clegg said the Israeli military operation has “overstepped the mark”, and revealed he’s been working with his Lib Dem cabinet colleague, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, to push for a suspension of arms export licences to Israel. Cable added that he and his fellow senior Lib Dems have been “making this case inside government” for a while, but had been unable “to get agreement” with the Tories.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Suspending export licences is not a decision we take lightly and it is right that we examine the facts fully. This is the approach being taken by the vast majority of countries.”

How long can Cameron keep up this strategy of lukewarm No 10 statements and low-key tutting at Israel’s actions when the opposition, his coalition colleagues and even significant individuals in his own party are asking for much more?

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.