Jeremy Hunt calls Britain's cap on Jewish emigration to Palestine 'black moment'

Foreign Secretary gives apparent apology in remarkably frank speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel


Jeremy Hunt has made an apparent apology for Britain’s 1939 policy to cap immigration into Palestine, calling it a “black moment” in history. 

In a remarkably frank speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel's annual parliamentary reception, the Foreign Secretary praised what he said was “on the whole” the strong relationship between the UK and the Jewish State.

But Mr Hunt expressed regret for the White Paper which limited the number of Jewish immigrants to Palestine to 75,000 for five years during the Nazi Holocaust.

It is believed to be the first time a foreign secretary has done this.

He said that after the signing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, "we have to be honest  - there have also been some black moments when we have done the wrong thing such as the 1939 White Paper which capped the number of visas issued to Jews wanting to go to the British mandate of Palestine."

He spoke of the challenges Israel faces "having many neighbours who have used direct threats to its existence" and where "other countries are dedicated to your total elimination and destruction."

Expressing his own "admiration" for the Jewish state Mr Hunt said that despite all of this Israel has "absolutely thrived as a modern high-tech country with a huge amount of prosperity." 

He spoke of the need to stamp out antisemitism and to "learn the lessons of history" so as to also to "stamp out" further atrocities such as those in Rwanda,  Cambodia and "possibly even in Burma."

Mr Hunt also joked that because of the votes going on in the Commons he would "not be Foreign Secretary for much longer if I miss them."

Mr Hunt also said Israel’s right to defend itself was “absolutely unconditional”. 

While stressing the government’s commitment to a two-state solution, he insisted disagreements with Jerusalem came “from the vantage point of friends”.

Just days after it was revealed the principles of a post-Brexit trade deal with Israel were in place, he also hailed bilateral “mushrooming trade”.

After commending the fact that trade is “mushrooming” between the UK and Israel, Mr Hunt said: "I don’t want to overdraw the comparison between Israel and post-Brexit Britain – but can I just say it’s a great inspiration to see how you have flourished despite the many challenges on your borders.”

Among the other speakers addressing the CFI reception were chairs Stephen Crabb and Lord Pickles, honorary president Lord Polak and reception host, Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers, who rushed in and out of the event in between votes.

Lord Polak was quick to praise the Foreign Secretary for the “apology” for British policy in 1939. 

Tory Party chairman Brandon Lewis also appeared to put the Party on election alert - urging guests at the CFI event to help with Sunday’s door knocking effort in Barnet.

He reminded the audience how crucial votes helped the party fare better than expected in the last election in Barnet.

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