Recent polling has shown that a majority of the UK public supports banning arms exports to Israel. A recent YouGov poll showed that 56% of all UK voters support a ban whilst 17% are against a ban. This poll was commissioned prior to Israel's killing of seven aid workers including three Britons.

Moreover, there is currently growing momentum within the Tory party to ban, suspend, or at least condition military aid to Israel. A number of Tory peers have called for UK to stop arming Israel. So have a number of MPs with former minister Sir Alan Duncan going the furthest in his criticism of Israel.

It’s what Israel has been doing for years has been wrong because the Israeli defence does not follow international law,” he said.

“It has been backing and supporting illegal settlers in the West Bank who steal Palestinian land and it is that land theft, that annexation of Palestine, which is the origin of the problem, which has given rise to the Hamas atrocity and the battles we’re seeing.

There are reports that the government's own legal advice is that arm transfers to Israel are illegal due to Israel contravening international humanitarian law. Finally, 600 members of the legal profession including three former supreme court judges have signed a letter to the government demanding a halt to arms sales to Israel saying it could make Britain complicit in genocide in Gaza.

So given this combination of electoral pressure (the majority of voters including Tory voters are against arms transfers), internal pressure (from members of the Tory party) and external pressure from well known members of the legal profession, what is holding back the UK government from actually enacting such an embargo?

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    Probably it would be a fig leaf. How much is Israel importing from UK, in terms of weapons? Looks like less than a billion in 15 years, but the distribution over time is not clear from that. Commented Apr 5 at 1:57
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    "...what is holding back the UK government from actually enacting such an embargo?" That government hasn't decided so maybe? I'm not sure what other factual answer one can give there. Commented Apr 5 at 5:32
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    To date, the Government's official, public position is that the exports are not inconsistent with the Strategic Export Licensing Criteria, which include obligations under international law. Is that what you want to know about?
    – Lag
    Commented Apr 5 at 12:54
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    Also, the title of this question mentions "Aid" but the body seems to be talking exclusively about 'normal' commercial trade - can you clarify?
    – MikeB
    Commented Apr 5 at 15:01
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    The polling is the only thing relevant to this question. Everything else is controversial (like "complicit in genocide", people writing letters, personal opinions), and therefore it is obvious why those things don't force the government to make a decision
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Apr 5 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


TLDR: The Conservative party is still broadly pro-Israel, anti-terrorist and Sunak is in a very weak position.

You jump from 56% of the public to "growing momentum within the Tory party" however the latter is mostly a small group within Parliament which is well to the left of the wider party and already antagonistic to Rishi Sunak.

Sunak is not in a strong enough position to take what would be an exceptionally controversial position opposed by the vast majority of his party and likely a majority of his own MPs. Taking such a step could potentially trigger enough formal letters to begin a leadership contest and end up being his final act as Prime Minister.

  • According to the poll data, Tory voters support a ban by 38% to 36%. By two to one, Tory voters think that Israel is breaking international law. So no, Sunak's policies don't seem to be particularly popular even with the rank and file of his own party. I am not sure what the numebrs look like in the Parliamentary party.
    – Ben Cohen
    Commented Apr 5 at 8:48
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    "Anti-terrorist" feels like a bit of a weak descriptor. One man's terrorist, as they say, is another man's freedom fighter - I imagine the vast majority of people would describe themselves as "anti-terrorist" regardless of their other political beliefs, but would disagree on who exactly counts as "terrorists".
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Apr 5 at 10:02
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    @BenCohen In the UK "voters" is very much not the same as "party". Based on the YouGov tables, there might be 5.5 to 6 million of the first (if an election were held to day and their Westminster VI was accurate) compared to about 170,000 party members.
    – origimbo
    Commented Apr 5 at 16:25
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    @BenCohen Don't forget that none of the last four prime ministers were removed by the electorate — the last three were removed by their own party (and the fourth might also have been, had he not pre-empted them).  So since Sunak took office, he has had more immediate concerns than the next election (which he may see as a foregone conclusion anyway).
    – gidds
    Commented Apr 7 at 16:36
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    I rejected an edit that suggesting that all Paelstinians are terrorists, no idea how that was approved!
    – deep64blue
    Commented Apr 8 at 18:54

From the related discussion, one impediment is that the UK participates in the F-35 program, and part of what is sent to Israel are components of those planes. If the UK were to stop sending those unilaterally, the US could in extremis kick the UK out of the program, like it happened to Turkey (when they displeased Washington).

Anyhow, it appears that direct exports from the UK are relatively low, these days:

with arms exports amounting to £42 million in 2022, it is not one of Israel’s major suppliers.

OTOH from the same piece

The Netherlands court of appeal ruled in February that the Dutch government must discontinue its sales of F35 fighter jet parts on the basis of its obligations under the UN arms trade treaty.

But so far the US has not taken any extreme measures against the Dutch because of that. OTOH if Trump comes to power... AFAIK he's never questioned the usefulness of Israel as a US ally, but he did question that of NATO.

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    Interesting, I hadn't considered the F-35 angle before.
    – Ben Cohen
    Commented Apr 5 at 8:49
  • A court order in Netherlands ordered just such a ban on F-35 exports to Israel, apnews.com/article/… , though the government did not agree or implement the order as far as I know
    – Pete W
    Commented Apr 5 at 18:34
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    @PeteW - the oddity of the Netherlands judgement is that the AP News report suggests the F-35 parts are neither produced in the Netherlands nor owned by anybody Dutch, but instead are US-owned but stored in the Netherlands. I doubt the Dutch courts would be able to stop the US moving them to say Germany. In fact I doubt the US would pay much attention to external courts: see the so-called "Hague Invasion Act" (related to a different court).
    – Henry
    Commented Apr 8 at 9:32

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