LONDON – Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, effectively Britain’s deputy foreign secretary, shocked the government yesterday when she announced her resignation in a tweet, explaining she disagreed with its stance on the “morally indefensible” conflict in Gaza.
Warsi, a lawyer who has Pakistani origins, was the most senior Muslim serving in Prime Minister David Cameron’s administration and the first to hold a cabinet position. In addition to serving as senior minister of state for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, she was minister of Faith and Communities, and was previously chairwoman of the Conservative Party.
In her resignation letter, Warsi said the “approach and language” of the administration’s Gaza policy was not in the national interest.
She warned that it would have a long term detrimental effect on Britain’s reputation both domestically and internationally, and that the government had failed to act as an “honest broker” in the conflict.
Warsi also expressed her frustration at the government’s reluctance to strongly condemn Israel’s repeated killing of civilians, adding that as the minister responsible for dealing with the International Criminal Court, she feared Cameron would not support bringing war crimes charges against those responsible.
“I felt I cannot reconcile this with our continued pressure on the Palestinian leadership not to turn to the ICC to seek justice,” she said.
In her second government role, Warsi said she had “tirelessly worked to combat hate crimes, Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism.” But she made clear that in early evidence from the Home Office and other sources there were signs the fallout from the current Gaza conflict was becoming “a basis for radicalization which could have consequences for us for years to come.”
After stepping down, she maintained that although she counted herself a member of the “Conservative Friends of Israel,” she could no longer sit silently and would now demand Britain introduce an arms embargo against Israel.
In her resignation letter to Cameron, Warsi also expressed displeasure at the way recently appointed Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was running the department, claiming there was now “great unease” at the way “recent decisions are being made.”
Opposition leader Ed Miliband and the Labor Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander were quick to signal their sympathy for Warsi.
Alexander said most reasonably minded people in Britain would agree with her views and it was “a sad reflection of the prime minister’s misjudgment of the crisis that this capable minister has felt the need to leave the government.”
That sentiment was echoed by Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party Leader Nick Clegg, who last week distanced himself from Cameron’s line, and called for Netanyahu to start talking directly to Hamas. He added it was “an open secret” that there were different opinions amongst ministers over Gaza, before stating that “as a self proclaimed Zionist,” he too regarded Israel’s actions as “ugly, disproportionate and tragic.”
Hammond said he was surprised by Warsi’s decision, particularly now, since Israel has just withdrawn its ground forces from Gaza.
“At long last we are seeing some relief,” he said, “some progress on the very issues about which she was so passionately concerned.”
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said they too regretted Warsi’s departure, “from a government that understands the challenges of a changing Middle East.” The majority of the Arab world and international community, the spokesman added, has recognized that Hamas is an obstacle to a positive future for Gaza.