The new Conservative Party chairman has expressed his hopes for a post-Brexit trade deal with Israel as he hailed the country’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Sir Patrick McLoughlin, who succeeded Lord Feldman in July, insisted leaving the European Union didn’t mean “casting our eyes backwards in any way, shape or form” in terms of relationships with the rest of the world.
In an interview with the Jewish News, he said: “I’m incredibly proud of some of the things we’re doing on digital development and entrepreneurial spirit in this country. I want us to work with other entrepreneurial countries and Israel is certainly a country with a great entrepreneurial base.”
Other than addressing a Conservative Friends of Israel lunch a few years ago, the MP for Derbyshire Dales acknowledges his contact with the Jewish state and the community has been limited. But after illness forced him to abandon a planned visit to the Jewish state with Conservative Friends of Israel in 2010, the former chief whip and transport secretary hopes his new role will enable him to visit for the first time “in the not too distant future”.
There is “no question” Theresa May’s government will be as supportive of the community and Israel as that of David Cameron, he insists. He stressed that the Tories had repeatedly made clear opposition to boycotts and new Communities Secretary Sajid Javid would be “watching what local authorities are doing on this” following the announcement of measures to tackle the issue.
One issue on which supporters of Israel have continued to express concern is over the way aid to the Palestinian Authority is paid, with claims that it could enable payments to terrorists by swelling general coffers.
McLoughlin stressed he is “very proud” of the government’s 0.7 percent commitment to overseas aid. But he said: “I would think [former international development secretary] Justine Greening and carrying on now with Priti Patel would be horrified if they saw money going into aid which was allowing other money to be attracted to sources which are destabilising to the middle east and to the Israeli people. That would be something that would fill me with worry and shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Where allegations are made we need to follow it through but we should not move away from the fact we’ve reached 0.7 percent and the good that’s doing.”
On the domestic scene, he hailed the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. “I’ve come across work of HET in my constituency with school trips going to Auschwitz. My own son’s been on a visit and it was very moving indeed. We must never forget it. You can’t forget such a horrendous crime.”
Turning to the Labour party’s relationship with the Jewish community and cases of anti-Semitism in its ranks, he said: “I can’t believe they’ve got themselves into such a mess. I fail to understand how a party which to a degree has a rich history has allowed anti-Semitism to become an issue in its party. It’s just unbelievable. It needs to sort this out – it’s just not acceptable that the principle opposition party has this tag associated with it.”
The former miner suggested the Tories should be a natural choice for British Jews regardless of the current woes. “Everything the Tory party has done for me is what we try to do across the whole country and that is to give people opportunity,” he said.
He also took the opportunity to heap praise on his predecessor as “a brilliant party chairman”, adding: “He’s not gone, he’s still around. I’m sure he’ll take more active role in the House of Lords now he has more time on his hands. And I’ve still got the phone number.”