A response from Sir Peter Bottomley MP:
I join calls across Parliament and worldwide to protect civilians: to urgently press all parties to agree to an immediate de-escalation and cessation of hostilities, to ensure the immediate, unconditional release of the Israeli hostages and to call for an end to the total siege of Gaza. I support any efforts to build a lasting and sustainable peace across the region.
On Monday 11th December, I was proud to support the Parliamentarians for Peace vigil to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to join the calls for peace in Gaza and Israel as well as around the globe. We join in recognising the strength of diplomacy in addressing this conflict and securing a peaceful resolution as urgently and quickly as possible.
Contentious amendments and motions, while headline-grabbing, are designed to trigger public backlash and, more importantly, are not binding measures. The notion that such amendments will result in an immediate ceasefire is fictitious and misleading. History and experience prove that diplomatic efforts remain the most effective method and must continue. See my previous words in response to the SNP Opposition Day debate on a ceasefire in December, 2023, for my views on such calls.
The UK Government is already calling for an immediate suspension of fighting in order to get vital aid in and hostages out, that progresses towards a permanent, sustainable ceasefire, without a return to destruction, fighting, and loss of life.
However, I recognise that the public wants reassurance that we are doing everything possible to support a resolution to the longstanding conflict that has existed for the best part of half a century. I will not vote against any motion that comes before the house regarding a ceasefire.
Last year, I signed an Early Day Motion in Parliament as the leading Government Side MP, backed by colleagues from eight parties, backing the joint statement from 12 leading aid agencies including Oxfam, Christian Aid, CAFOD and Islamic Relief, and calling for an immediate ceasefire.
Many constituents have signed petitions calling on greater work to release the hostages still held by Hamas, to ramp up the delivery of humanitarian aid to the innocent civilians caught up in the conflict, and to bring an end to the violence and bloodshed.
Alongside travelling to the Middle East on the 30th of January to secure an immediate pause in the conflict to allow significantly more aid in and hostages out, the Foreign Secretary set out five demands to bring about peace and an end to the bloodshed. This included the release of hostages, a credible plan for a two-state solution, support for a new Palestinian Government without the terrorist influence of Hamas, and a vast increase in humanitarian aid and medical support on the ground.
In Israel, I would demand that necessary action to deal with the Hamas organisation take account of the lives, not just basic humanitarian needs, of those fleeing from place to place within the ever-shrinking territory.
A group of active constituents have informed me that to date, more children have been killed in Gaza than the entire primary school population in Worthing. Every day this figure increases. An estimated 19,000 children have been orphaned as a result of the conflict.
We recognise the disproportionate impact of war on children and the moral, legal, and strategic imperative to protect particularly young people from the effects of conflict.
I have written to the Foreign Secretary asking what work is being undertaken to reach a cessation of hostilities, the steps the UK is taking to bring accountability to any violations of international humanitarian law, and the means by which the UK is scaling up the delivery of aid to civilians of all ages and in all corners of Gaza.
The Government has committed to working intensively with the UN and all partners on practical solutions to deliver more aid into Gaza. The Foreign Secretary has promised that UK humanitarian aid will be targeted to help ensure the specific needs of children are met. Total UK aid pledged to the Occupied Palestinian Territories stands at £87 million for 2023/24.
A British emergency medical team are currently assessing the situation on the ground and looking into the deployment of a field hospital in Gaza. The Foreign Office is also considering the potential of joining with the United Arab Emirates in lifting civilians out of Gaza, particularly children, to give them support in the UAE.
I support these measures and have called upon the Foreign Secretary to employ them immediately and without delay.
We can recognise the work of the Government in continuing to engage closely with Israel on the conduct of their military offensive with a focus on respect of International Humanitarian Law, urging Israel to take greater care to avoid harming civilians and civilian infrastructure.
In response to the planned offensive in Rafah, the Foreign Secretary has called for an immediate cease in fighting. On the 19th of February, the Foreign Secretary urged both Israel and Hamas to work towards a cease-fire “rather than an offensive in Rafah.”
“We are calling for a stop to the fighting right now. We think that what we need is a pause in the fighting and the hostages to come out and aid to go in. That should happen straight away.”
Speaking to residents across Worthing and Arun, including when out with local Councillors, they expect me to support the important work of the Foreign Secretary. We share in appreciating his realistic and effective diplomatic efforts to bring about an urgent end to the conflict and a realistic plan for peace.
We recognise that the onus is on Hamas to return Israeli and international hostages and on Israel to cease their ground offensive.
More can be done. More should be done.