Hague rebuts 'Arabist' accusation

By Martin Bright, March 8, 2012

Foreign Secretary William Hague has reacted with fury to the suggestion that he has been taken hostage by Arabist Foreign Office mandarins.

Mr Hague turned on backbencher Douglas Carswell at a private meeting of more than 30 pro-Israel Conservative MPs last week, describing his concerns about the Foreign Office as "claptrap".

The JC understands Mr Carswell said the Foreign Office was guilty of deformation professionnelle, a French phrase denoting the tendency of institutions to protect their own position. The MP asked for reassurance that ministers were running the Foreign Office, rather than the other way around.

According to sources present, Mr Hague was particularly annoyed at any claim that he had "gone native" within the Foreign Office, and said that he often overrode advice from his officials.

Conservative Friends of Israel, which hosted the event, was forced to issue a statement after details of the confrontation were reported by the Mail on Sunday. According to the report, other MPs, including James Arbuthnot, Robert Halfon, Nick Boles and Priti Patel, also raised concerns about the Foreign Office's stance on Israel.

The post-meeting statement from Bob Blackman MP was meant to play down the row, emphasising the importance of a "frank and honest discussion". However, it effectively confirmed that MPs had expressed their unhappiness with the stance taken by the Foreign Office.

"Last week, colleagues had a constructive meeting with the Foreign Secretary to discuss Middle East Policy," said Mr Blackman. "We were keen to express our support for Israel whilst stressing the importance of a balanced policy with regard to the peace process. The meeting sought to raise the notion that… the tone of the message, at times, gives the perception of being hostile to Israel." The statement said the meeting covered a wide range of subjects, including the importance of working with Israel for peace; Palestinian reconciliation and Hamas; Palestinian incitement; and the Iranian threat.

The meeting had been requested by the MPs, who said they wanted to express the depth of their support for Israel within the Conservative Party.

Last updated: 1:32pm, March 8 2012