Britain’s new Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, made the annual Conservative Friends of Israel parliamentary reception one of his first public appearances in his new role — and made a passionate case for Britain to maintain a close partnership with the Jewish state.
Speaking at a packed reception on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament, Mr Williamson, promoted by Prime Minister Theresa May from chief whip in her latest reshuffle, said: “Britain will always be Israel’s friend.” The two countries had “an amazing relationship”, he said. “We were at the birth of the nation and we have today a partnership of equals, of friends. Israel is that beacon of light, in a region where there is so much hatred.
“What are we in politics if we cannot accept and celebrate the wonderful blooming of democracy that is Israel, but instead turn to spite, envy, and sheer simple hatred? And that is happening among some elements in politics today, and sadly, it seems to be becoming more and more acceptable. None of us should ever stand for that. We have to call it out at every single opportunity. It is my hope that the relationship between our two countries grows and prospers.”
Mr Williamson admitted, to laughter, that to date his only visit to Israel had been when he was 13 — when he had been very impressed by “your female defence forces”. And he added that when he had been Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Cameron, the then Prime Minister had been considering the latest British military acquisition, an armoured vehicle called the Scout.
“David said — well, I won’t say say exactly what he said, but he made it clear he didn’t think it was a very good name. He said, in Israel, they have great names for things, like Iron Dome. And I see in this room my Minister for Defence Procurement, [the Welsh MP Guto Bebb], and I order him, take inspiration from Israel [in naming military hardware]. If he does not do this, we expect his resignation!”
But later, speaking to the Jewish News, Mr Williamson disclosed another possibility. As chief whip he famously had a tarantula on his desk, said by many to be used as a coercive device when he dealt with recalcitrant MPs. Now the tarantula, named Cronus, is in Mr Williamson’s parliamentary offices — and he told the Jewish News that Britain’s next military acquisition might well be named after the tarantula. [Cronus was one of the Titans of Greek mythology].
The reception, attended by many MPs and peers, including the veteran Europhile Ken Clarke, the former Chancellor, was addressed by the CFI parliamentary chair, Stephen Crabb MP, and Israeli ambassador Mark Regev. Treasurer Stephen Massey gave the vote of thanks.