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Foreign Office blocks SNP minister’s visit to Gaza

ByAilsa Wolfe

Mar 18, 2015
Image: Kashfi HalfordImage: Kashfi Halford

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has come under heavy criticism following its refusal to allow Humza Yousaf, the SNP Minister for external affairs and international development to pay an official visit to the Gaza strip.

The decision was made in the wake of a £500,000 donation in July of 2014 to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Gaza Flash Appeal.

The donation was made to in order to aid those living in the region, following the death of over 2,100 Gazan civilians in Operation Protective Edge last summer. 

Yousaf condemned the move, writing to the Foreign Secretary: “Although FCO officials initially said that they were in principle able to provide support for such a visit, I have since been informed that the FCO view has changed.”

In the letter, Yousaf cited the reasoning the Foreign Office gave as “firstly that the security situation in the region presents a greater than usual risk and that officials are advising against all ministerial travel; and secondly an assertion that the UK works exclusively to a reserved foreign affairs agenda in Gaza.”  

The Office reminded Yousaf that such issues are solely within the remit of the UK government whilst the Scottish Parliament does not have the authority to handle these issues, according to the letter.

Yousaf criticised the decision taken by the FCO, claiming that a ministerial visit would showcase the work Scotland has undertaken to provide aid to suffering civilians in the Gaza strip.

He expressed his discontent with the situation, saying that “a…visit to Gaza…would serve to highlight the Scottish Government’s international development agenda and the support that it has given in this area.

He also indicated his disapproval of the FCO’s decision: “I find it disappointing and frustrating that the FCO is effectively blocking Scottish Ministers from visiting Humanitarian projects in Gaza.”

The FCO has attempted to appease Yousaf by allowing the Scottish government to receive updates from the British Consul in Jerusalem on the impact of the aid that has been given.

Previous official ministerial visits to Gaza have been successful, with a number of prominent officials being given the chance to observe the positive impact of British aid to Gaza.

Baroness Morris, the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to the Palestinian Territories spoke out in favour of ministerial visits, stating that: “The people in Gaza are cut off and isolated. A change in attitudes of UK politicians depends on visits.”

The FCO, meanwhile, is not in favour of such visits currently.

A spokesperson said: “The safety of British nationals is of paramount importance and the FCO’s travel advice for British nationals is clear; we advise against all travel to Gaza.”

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