Seventy-five years ago last month, we emerged victorious from World War II. Britain had faced the darkest of choices. Would she defend the international rule of law, and with it, world order and freedom as we know it? Or would she stand aside?
Britain’s wartime leader, my grandfather Sir Winston Churchill, knew very well that the values of civilisation we hold most dear to this day – freedom, justice, fairness and compassion – can never be taken for granted and that there are times when they must be defended at all costs, however heavy.
Standing up for what was right was not easy: his opposition to the Government’s official policy of appeasement incurred the wrath of his party for five long years. The cost to Britain for standing up for what was right was to be devastating. But the choice Churchill made in those darkest of hours saved Britain and all that we hold most dear and count most British.
Thanks to the bravery of many men and women, we are fortunate to live in a very different world today. But the world is ever changing. Those values which our parents and grandparents fought to preserve are always under threat. We cannot take it for granted that if we simply stand aside, they will survive.
Now that Britain has left the European Union, it falls to her to redefine her role strongly and clearly in an increasingly turbulent, complex and dangerous world. As hostile State and non-state actors seek to undermine the international rule of law on which our civilisation is built, it falls to Britain to reassert her unwavering commitment to fairness, justice and what is right.
In these coming weeks, Britain’s commitment to these values will be tested. Thankfully today the circumstances are nowhere near comparable, but the question over Britain’s commitment to the rule of law is, in a very different context, still in question.
The question is how should we respond when our close friends and allies breach the international rule of law? Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with the support of the President of the United States, has openly pledged to annex areas of the Palestinian West Bank, on or from 1st July. This is an absolutely clear breach of the international rule of law. How should Britain respond?
To explore the significance and ramifications of this incendiary move, CMEC is running a week of articles and podcasts, featuring a variety of voices.
Our former Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt will be in conversation with both H.E Husam Zomlot, Head of the Palestinian Mission in the UK and with H.E Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK. He will also speak to Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Process. We will hear from many more voices exploring the ramifications for Britain, Israel and Palestine, were this unlawful plan to go ahead.
Clearly, this challenge is nowhere near the magnitude faced by the free world eighty years ago, but the consequence of allowing a breach of international law on this scale to go unchallenged in such a turbulent part of the world, may well escalate and we may perhaps look with hindsight to find that our response to this issue had profound consequences down the line.
So yet again, Britain stands at cross-roads. We have a choice as to what Britain will be known for globally and how we will see ourselves. Do we uphold international law impartially, without fear or favour? Will we challenge our international friends and allies when they undermine the rule of law, as true friends should and must?
As we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, we celebrated that Britain had stood up for what is right. But standing up for what is right both at home and abroad is never easy; not then, not now. Churchill believed that doing the right thing was, at the end of the day, always the right thing to do, however difficult and however unpopular. It is my profound hope that we not only remember our past of standing up for what is right, but that we do the right thing for our friends and allies today.