£12,000 expenses for Tory MSPs in Brexit-Israel pact

Nathanael Williams

Tory MSPs received payments as post-Brexit vision of UK-Israeli ties are planned

THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION has released figures detailing expenses totalling £12,000 paid to six Conservative MSPs by the lobbying group Conservatives for Israel (CFI).

The data for September confirmed that on 31 July the MSPs were each given £2,000 by the group that supports business, social and security connections between the UK and Israel in the political arena. The monies paid for a trip to Israel by the MSPs.

The reveleation comes in the light of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, which has opened up debate over the future of the UK and Scotland’s trade relationships.

In response to the commissions' figures, a spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said: "The Tories should give the courtesy of spelling out what Brexit means for people in Scotland and the UK before taking their message on overseas visits"

The Conservative MSPs funded by CFI are Ross Thompson for the north east region, Annie Wells for Glasgow, Maurice Golden and Jamie Greene for the west of Scotland, John Lamont for Berwickshire and Douglas Ross in Highland and Isles.

Although receiving payment at the end of July, the fees for their visit to Israel in August were not recorded with the electoral commission until September 6. 

On the trip the ten members of the Scottish Conservatives toured security and business hotspots across the country, but also went to the Golan Heights to speak with Palestinian business representatives.

The visit also received a high degree of press coverage in Israel, with articles published in the Times of Israel, Haaretz, Jewish News, Chronicle and Telegraph newspapers.

"We’re keen to use the Brexit result as an opportunity to build closer ties with Israel." John Lamont

In an interview with the Times of Israel, John Lamont MSP said that because of the trip he and his colleagues had "a much greater understanding and feel for the issues" surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his blog for the news outlet, Lamont said: "We’re keen to ensure that people know that Scotland and the United Kingdom are still looking for business. We’re keen to use the Brexit result as an opportunity to build closer ties with Israel.

"Countries are lining up to sign free deals with the UK, including Israel. The current situation is undoubtedly challenging, but it should also be viewed as an exciting opportunity."

The comments are in line with the change in stance by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who campaigned for remain but has since argued that politicians have a duty to "make the best of Brexit."

While in Israel the MSP group had lunch with the Israel-UK Chamber of Commerce and also visited Tel Aviv’s thriving business hub to learn about chances for greater bilateral trade between the two countries. 

Lamont added: "The UK-Israel relationship is stronger than ever, but we must do everything we can as a government and party to take that relationship to even greater levels.

"That means more trade, scientific cooperation and cultural exchanges. It means challenging the anti-peace message of the so-called boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement."

Founded in 1974, Conservative Friends of Israel is an influential affiliate group of the Conservative Party containing what is thought to be the largest number of Conservative MPs of any group in the Westminster Parliament.

It counts members among the highest echelons of the party, including the former foreign secretary William Hague, former secretary of state for Scotland, Malcolm Rifkind and the current secretary of state for international development Priti Patel. 

Set up after it’s Labour equivalent in 1957, it currently has approximately 2,000 members and its Westminister parliamentary group includes 80 per cent of all Conservative MPs.

The late Conservative historian Robert Rhodes James once described CFI as "immensely influential" and arguably the "most influential in fighting for the interests of the state of Israel in Western Europe."

Critics of the organisation’s influence point to examples of the lack of criticism of Israeli military action within the Conservative party, such as the silence over alleged war crimes committed during the country's 2009 Cast Lead operation in Gaza. 

Israel admitted using white phosphorous during the operation, which is illegal under international law, however two weeks after the conflict David Cameron gave a speech on Israel/Palestine without mention of the infringement.

Picture courtesy of No Comment

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