LONDON – In a surprise move, William Hague resigned as the UK foreign secretary after serving just over four years in the post.
His departure late Monday was headline news as Premier David Cameron launched a major reconstruction of his government in preparation for the May 2015 general election.
Hague later explained that he had told the prime minister that he wanted a lower profile position in preparation for retiring as an MP at the election. He has been appointed leader of the House of Commons with a brief which includes coordinating government policy and getting its legislative program through Parliament while he has asked to actively campaign for the ruling Conservative Party in the run-up to the election.
He has kept his seat on the National Security Council and has been given the title of deputy premier.
Just a few hours earlier, Hague faced a crowded Commons to make a statement and answer MPs questions on the Gaza crisis.
Hague has indicated he intends to continue his career as a writer on great figures in British history after retiring from the Commons, though will almost certainly be given a seat in the House of Lords.
While he always counted himself as a friend of Israel and claimed to support its right to defend itself, his constant strong criticism of the settlements program coupled with his claims that Israel in previous campaigns in Gaza was using “disproportionate force” and his championing new rules including special labeling for UK companies trading with West Bank settlements left question marks about his commitment to the Jewish state.
Much of his time as foreign secretary was taken up with Middle East issues. He recently reestablished diplomatic ties with Iran, and championed the Arab Spring without realizing its consequences. But probably his greatest failure was to misjudge the mood of Parliament in the decision MPs took not to sanction military action to unseat Syria’s President Bashar Assad. His welcoming of change in Libya appears to have been misjudged while his calls for Assad’s removal fell on deaf ears.
All these problems and the increasing radicalization of the region will be high priorities on the desk of his successor Phillip Hammond, who for the last two years has served as defense secretary. Prior to entering government Hammond showed virtually no interest in foreign affairs and Conservative Friends of Israel’s Director Stuart Polak was unable to indicate whether he had joined the organization when he first was elected to the Commons.
CFI’s director insisted that the only comments he wanted to make related to Hammond’s time as defense secretary. “He presided over a period when the UK-Israel defense relationship has never been better.” Hammond visited Israel last year in that capacity.
Said to be the richest man in the cabinet – he has a reported wealth in excess of £8 million – his promotion fits in with the right-wing stance of many in the Conservative Party who are campaigning for Britain to either renegotiate its membership of the European Union or to arrange for the UK to quit altogether.
A new look government will also see a new Middle East minister, Hugh Robertson lasting less than a year after the highly popular and much missed predecessor Alistair Burt. That new name was still awaited late on Tuesday, but fears abound that Hague’s .