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19 October 2022

Legal action underway to prevent Prime Minister Liz Truss moving UK embassy to Jerusalem

4 mins

On behalf of the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), Bindmans LLP has written to Prime Minister Liz Truss, warning her that her stated intention to move the UK embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be unlawful, and any attempt to do so could result in the group issuing Judicial Review proceedings. Counsel Alison Macdonald KC, Tatyana Eatwell, Lorraine Aboagye and Rosa Polaschek assisted in the drafting of the letter.

The letter to the Prime Minister follows her August ‘hustings’ letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel, where she stated that she understood the ‘importance and sensitivity’ of the location of the British Embassy in Israel and committed to ‘review[ing] a move [of the location of the British Embassy in Israel] to ensure we are operating on the strongest footing within Israel’.

Ms Truss’ position was later repeated in a UK government press statement in September. According to the statement, the newly appointed Prime Minister had indicated to the Prime Minister of Israel, Yair Lapid, while at a UN meeting, that a ‘review of the current location of the British Embassy in Israel’ was underway.

Ms Truss’ proposal has brought condemnation both domestically and internationally. Criticism from prominent Conservatives includes Lord Hague of Richmond, who rejects the move. 50 UK Jewish youth leaders wrote to the Board of Deputies decrying the move. All Ambassadors to the United Kingdom of Arab States have rejected the move, including those from states that have normalised relations with Israel; some have also written directly to the Foreign Secretary.

The letter drafted on behalf of the ICJP, and sent to Ms Truss, considers the unique and special status of Jerusalem in international law and the international legal consequences of the UK’s potential relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It states that there are strong grounds to conclude that moving the British Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would constitute a violation of the UK’s obligations under international law as it would imply recognition of unilateral legislative, administrative, and other measures adopted by Israel in relation to Jerusalem. These measures, which include Israel’s enactment of Basic Law 1980 declaring Jerusalem ‘complete and united’ as Israel’s capital, have been repeatedly declared invalid by UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council has affirmed that the enactment of the Basic Law 1980 constitutes a violation of international law.

The legal opinion further states that there are strong grounds to conclude that the move would violate the UK’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions, which require that the UK does everything in its power to ensure respect for those Conventions by other states and non-state parties to a conflict. The opinion also states that moving the embassy may cause the UK to violate its obligations under the Geneva Conventions ‘not to encourage, aid or assist violations of the Conventions by another State’.

Tayab Ali, partner at Bindmans and Director of the ICJP, comments:

The Prime Minister has demonstrated over the last few weeks the dangers of carelessly announcing and implementing policies that are not thought through and without proper consultation. The consequences to the UK economy are serious. The Prime Minister should not approach international situations in the same way. We cannot as a country champion the Ukrainian fight for freedom from forced annexation and forced territorial acquisition and then create policy for Israel which so badly undermines the British assertion of the primacy of international law and the UN charter. The consequences of carelessness at this level would be unthinkable.

Crispin Blunt MP, Director of the ICJP, says:

This opinion of independent Legal Counsel, expert in their field, reinforces the massive concentration of diplomatic, religious and political concern over the review around moving the UK’s embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The fact that the UK is apparently seriously considering this is already causing serious reputational damage, not least to our inherited responsibilities to be at least balanced to Palestinian aspirations that have been so betrayed in the grim reality that has followed in the century since the Balfour Declaration.

Respected Conservative elder statesmen Lord Hague and Alistair Burt, both a former Middle East Minister and Treasurer of Conservative Friends of Israel, have joined this chorus of serious and informed opinion. This review needs concluding now with the endorsement of the Status Quo on the location of the embassy.

The ICJP is represented in this matter by Tayab Ali, partner in the Bindmans Crime, Fraud and Regulatory team, alongside Counsel Alison Macdonald KC, Tatyana Eatwell, Lorraine Aboagye and Rosa Polaschek.

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