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Brexit will bring closer Israel-UK ties, British envoy says

Ambassador David Quarrey says his country leaving the European Union creates ‘real opportunity’ for closer ties with Jerusalem

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Britain's ambassador to Israel, David Quarrey. (British Embassy Israel)
Britain's ambassador to Israel, David Quarrey. (British Embassy Israel)

The United Kingdom’s shock referendum decision earlier this year to leave the European Union creates a “real opportunity” for closer ties between Israel and the UK, Britain’s ambassador to Israel said Thursday.

At a Sukkot holiday party at the ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv, Ambassador David Quarrey described the current global political climate as “uncertain.” He said the Brexit referendum result presents “challenges,” but also “creates a real opportunity for Israel and the UK to work even more closely together.”

Once the UK activates the clause allowing it to leave the EU — which newly appointed Prime Minister Theresa May has said will happen by March 2017 — negotiations on the terms of Britain’s departure would run for two years. In that time the UK will then have to renegotiate independent trade deals with dozens of countries around the world, including Israel.

Leaving the EU “will certainly present challenges,” Quarrey said. “But with Israel I see the opportunity for closer cooperation on trade, investment, technology, science and security,” he added.

The impact on Israel’s economy and high-tech sector is expected to be limited, economists and commentators say, though they note there is still too much uncertainty for reliable predictions. The prospect of London’s shrinking role on the European stage, however, could put on hold Israeli companies’ plans to set up branches in the UK and could keep them from offering shares in what is still the world’s second-most important financial center after New York.

British ambassador to Israel David Quarrey speaks at a Sukkot party at the ambassador's residence in Tel Aviv, October 20, 2016. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)
British ambassador to Israel David Quarrey speaks at a Sukkot party at the ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv, October 20, 2016. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

Diplomatically, with the UK out of the EU, Israel believes it is losing a friend in the union. In an interview with Israeli broadcaster Channel 2 a day after the June 23 referendum, Quarrey said that Israel will now have to navigate relations with the European Union without London playing the role of arbiter.

“We have been a friend of Israel in the EU, we’ll be a friend of Israel outside the EU, but Israel’s relations with the EU in the future will have to be determined without Britain at the table,” he said at the time.

His latest comments suggest the UK is seeking not just to maintain ties with the Jewish state, but to bolster them further.

Theresa May, who took over as premier from David Cameron in the chaotic political aftermath of the referendum vote, is widely regarded as a good friend of the Jewish community, and of Israel.

Cameron had been one of Israel’s warmest friends in Europe, and other leaders of the party who briefly sought to succeed him — including now-foreign minister Boris Johnson and his pro-Brexit ally-rival Michael Gove — also publicly back Israel, underlining how widespread support is for Israel in the top ranks of the governing Conservatives, in stark contrast to the relentless criticisms of Israel from many senior opposition Labour figures, including party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Foreign Minister Boris Johnson on September 30, 2016. (GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Foreign Minister Boris Johnson on September 30, 2016. (GPO)

Johnson visited Israel in November to boost tech ties between the nations, saying London was “a natural partner for Israeli companies seeking to grow.”

Last week, Johnson told a delegation of Arab ambassadors that London will seek closer economic ties with the Arab world following Brexit, saying the Middle East is a region of “huge opportunity” for Britain, a statement that seem to parallel Quarrey’s Thursday remarks.

Johnson also acknowledged the importance of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but emphasized to his Arab audience that it was “not the only problem in the region.”

“It is absolutely vital that we do not allow the Middle East, the Arab world in the eyes of the British public to be defined by these problems,” he said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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