Marcus Dysch

Dysch on Politics: Sir Alan Duncan, the thorn in Israel's side at the Foreign Office

January 13, 2017 12:24

Alan Duncan is likely to have purred with satisfaction when his inadvertent role in this week’s scandal became apparent.

A perennial thorn in the side of Israeli governments, the veteran Conservative MP was inevitably going to be a controversial figure after Theresa May promoted him to a leading Foreign Office role following the Brexit vote.

Sir Alan is one of Westminster’s more confident figures, never afraid to say what he thinks, often with inevitable consequences. 

No stranger to clandestine recording-related job losses himself, the 59-year-old was demoted from the Shadow Cabinet in 2009 after being secretly filmed claiming MPs were forced to “live on rations” and were “treated like s***”.

The bouffant-haired politician need not worry too much about his working conditions. Before entering politics, he progressed from being Oxford Union president in the 1970s to become an oil trading millionaire. That he worked as an independent consultant and adviser to foreign governments specialising in oil supplies may give some indication of how his views of the Middle East were formed.

In the six months before his promotion last July, for example, he received £48,000 from an Emirati refinery company which he chaired. In October he was granted a £50,000 severance payment.

One of his most spectacular anti-Israel rants came in October 2014 when he called settlement supporters “extremists” and said they should be barred from public office. He described “settlement endorsement” as being as offensive as “racism, sexism, homophobia and antisemitism”.

There was also the apparent suggestion, in the same speech at the Royal United Services Institute, that Britain should tackle Israel’s settler policy with military action. He compared the situation to Argentina invading the Falklands and Saddam Hussein charging into Kuwait.

In a radio interview the same day he claimed the United States was “in hock to a very powerful financial lobby which dominates its politics”, drawing accusations of antisemitism. 

In 2011, while serving as a minister, he caused chaos in two government departments when he visited Gaza and accused Israel of intentionally diverting water away from Palestinians while describing Israel’s security barrier as a “land grab”.

It is hardly any wonder there was such opposition from pro-Israel voices when Sir Alan returned to the fold last summer.

Jonathan Arkush, Board of Deputies president, said he planned to complain “in all sorts of ways” to the government because of his “appalling” past remarks, while Labour MP Louise Ellman described the Tory’s new position as a “matter of concern”. 

That a foolish Israeli official has done so much to promote him means that on this occasion, it is Sir Alan who has had the last laugh.

January 13, 2017 12:24

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