June 20, 2024

Starmer must ban UK arms sales to Israel if he becomes PM, artists demand

Sir Keir Starmer is facing fresh pressure to ban UK arms sales to Israel after more than 100 artists including Riz Ahmed and Steve Coogan urged him to halt exports if Labour wins power.

The Oscar-winning Star Wars actor and Bafta-winning comedian were joined by the likes of Maxine Peake, Paloma Faith, Dame Harriet Walter and Asif Kapadia, in urging the Labour leader to “end UK complicity in war crimes in Gaza”.

The artists, some of whom have been prominent Labour supporters like Coogan and Peake, said continuing to sell arms to Israel when its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for war crimes amid concerns about the civilian death toll in Gaza, was “morally reprehensible”.

The group also highlighted an order from the International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, asking Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah” in the south of the Gaza Strip, claiming this was ignored by Tel Aviv.

In a letter to Starmer, the artists said: “Countries like Spain have already taken action by halting arms sales to Israel. It is time for the UK to follow suit and demonstrate its commitment to human rights and international law.

“Polls suggest that you are likely to become the next Prime Minister, winning with a promise of ‘change’.

“As a former human rights lawyer, you have a unique opportunity to bring about meaningful change by ending UK complicity in war crimes in Gaza.”

The ICC arrest warrant to which the letter refers was branded “outrageous” by US President Joe Biden, who also rejected accusations that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza. It is an allegation that Israel also vehemently denies.

The call from cultural figures will intensify internal pressure on Starmer to act on the crisis. Tobias Menzies, who starred in The Crown, Harry Potter actress Miriam Margolyes, and Robert Del Naja, the founding member of the band Massive Attack, have also signed the letter.

Last year, 56 Labour MPs rebelled and eight shadow ministers quit to back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza in a Commons vote.

Anger over Labour’s stance on Gaza also tempered enthusiasm over the party’s gains in the local elections in May.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has so far resisted intense pressure to suspend arms export licences for Israel, with the Government arguing that UK defence exports to the country are “relatively small” with just £42m-worth in 2022.

The Foreign Secretary has also said only around 0.1 per cent of Israel’s total arms exports come from the UK.

But those calling for a ban have stressed that it would be a highly symbolic move that would add to diplomatic pressure on Israel over its conduct in Gaza.

A Labour spokesman said the party would conduct an immediate review of government legal advice on taking power before making a decision on arms exports.

The spokesman said: “Labour has repeatedly called on the Government to publish at least a summary of the legal advice around arms sales, given our serious concerns over the horrifying scenes in Gaza.

“We have been clear that the Government must uphold both our domestic and international legal obligations when it comes to arms exports.”

“If Labour wins the election, we will assess the most up to date legal advice and we will act on what it says.”

The letter in full

Keir Starmer: commit to stopping arms sales to Israel as Prime Minister

We, the undersigned, write to urge you to take a stand against the ongoing atrocities committed by Israel and commit to stopping arms sales to Israel should you become Prime Minister.

In just eight months, more than 35,000 people have been murdered by Israel. Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s top court, ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah.” Instead, Israel disregarded this ruling and bombed a designated “safe space” 60 times in 48 hours, resulting in the deaths of entire families. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu currently faces arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Continuing to sell arms to a country whose leader is accused of such grave violations of international law is morally reprehensible.

Pictured: Miriam Margolyes with A Christmas Carol book by Charles Dickens at Gunnersbury Park Museum.
Miriam Margolyes is among the stars to have signed the letter (Photo: Channel 4)

Countries like Spain have already taken action by halting arms sales to Israel. It is time for the UK to follow suit and demonstrate its commitment to human rights and international law.

Polls suggest that you are likely to become the next Prime Minister, winning with a promise of “change.” As a former human rights lawyer, you have a unique opportunity to bring about meaningful change by ending UK complicity in war crimes in Gaza. You would be well supported: a majority of the British public supports ending arms sales to Israel.

The UK must no longer remain complicit in the genocide of the Palestinian people. By suspending arms sales to Israel, particularly while its leader faces arrest warrants from the ICC, you can send a clear message that the UK will not tolerate human rights abuses and will stand up for the oppressed.

Sir Keir, we urge you to seize this opportunity to bring about real change and demonstrate your commitment to justice and human rights. The lives of countless Palestinians depend on leaders like you taking a principled stand.


Aisling Bea – Writer, Actor, Comedian

Alia Alzougbi – Artistic Director

Alycia Pirmohamed – Poet

Amar Chebib – Filmmaker

Andrew Milk – Musician

Anna Shaffer – Actor

Asif Kapadia – Film Director

Bella Freud – Fashion Designer

Bilal Hasna – Actor

Brigid Keenan – Writer, Journalist

Camilla Whitehill – Writer

Cara Theobold – Actor

Cathy Reay – Author

Catrin Evans – Theatre Director

Chardine Taylor-Stone – Musician

Claire Kohda – Author, Violinist

Courttia Newland – Writer

Crystal Bennes – Artist

Dan Hancox – Author

David Sylvian – Musician, Artist

Davis – Musician

Emily Berry – Writer

Esther Wakelin-Stotten – Art teacher, DJ

Eyal Sivan – Filmmaker

Farah Nabulsi – Filmmaker

Fatima Bhutto – Writer

Florence To – Artist

Frances Stacey – Curator

Gauranga Varia – Artist

Gillian Slovo – Writer

Gina Birch – Musician/ Artist

Gloria Dawson – Writer

Graham Hastings, Young Fathers – Musician

Hanna Flint – Critic, Author, Presenter

Harriet Walter – Actor

Hassan Akkad – Author, Filmmaker

James Harker – Playwright

Jayce Salloum – Filmmaker

Jazz Cook – Editor, Writer

Jen Brister – Comedian

Jenna Jarvis – Writer

Jo Hauge – Artist

Jo Kali – Music education

John Smith – Artist, Filmmaker

Jolyon Maugham KC – Director, Good Law Project

Joseph Donald – Artist

Julia Jackman – Filmmaker

Juliet Stevenson – Actor

Kamila Shamsie – Writer

Katie Holten – Artist, Author

Kerrie Ann Murphy / BEARCAT – DJ

Kieran Yates – Author

Lara Pawson – Writer

Lena Heady – Actress, Writer, Director

Leo Kurunis – Musician

Lisa Moorish – Singer songwriter

Lolly Adefope – Actor

Lucy Bailey – Theatre Director

Lucy Moss – Theatre Writer/Director

Luis Jacob – Artist

Luke Rollason – Actor

Lynne Segal – Writer

Maggie Steed – Actor

Máiréad Tyers – Actor

Marina Warner – Writer

Maxine Peake – Actor

Megan Prescott – Actor

Michael Rosen – Writer

Mike Leigh – Film Director, Writer

Mike Lerner – Filmmaker

Mikeala Loach – Author and climate justice activist

Milly Zero – Actor, Producer

Miriam Margolyes – Actor

Mirza Waheed – Writer

Misan Harriman – Photographer

Nadia Sawalha – TV Presenter

Niall Buggy – Actor

Niall Tessier-Lavigne – Artist

Nicholas Wright  – Writer

Nikesh Shukla – Writer

Omar Robert Hamilton – Writer

Paapa Essiedu – Actor

Paloma Faith – Musician

Pam Hogg – Fashion Designer

Pauline Melville – Writer

Penny Woolcock – Filmmaker

Peter Collins – Graphic designer, Publisher

Peter Kennard – Artist

Phyllida Lloyd –  Director

Pratibha Parmar – Filmmaker

Reneé Griffin – Musician

Riz Ahmed – Actor, Musician

Rob Myatt – Literary translator

Robert Del Naja, Massive Attack – Artist

Robyn Slovo – Producer

Rowan Lear – Artist

Ruth Lass – Actor

Saoirse Amira Anis – Artist, Producer

Sarah Reygate – Make-up artist

Sarah Shamash – Filmmaker

Sean Biggerstaff – Actor

Shze-Hui Tjoa – Author

Simon Manyonda – Actor

Sophie Monks Kaufman – Author

Steve Coogan – Comedian, Screenwriter, Actor

Steve Skaith – Musician

Suleiman Rimi – Actor

Susan Wooldridge – Actor, Writer

Tai Shani – Artist

Tobia Grieco – Filmmaker, Creative Executive

Tobias Menzies – Actor

Toby Marlow – Composer, Writer, Actor

Tom Cullen – Actor, Director

Tracey Seaward – Film Producer

Vanessa Jackson – Artist

Victoria Brittain – Writer

Will Attenborough – Actor

Yara Rodrigues Fowler – Author

Yasmin Fedda – Filmmaker

Yo Zushi – Journalist, Musician

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