It’s hard enough to get Tory MPs through the same division lobby, let alone to get them to sit around the same table. So when government ministers William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Grant Shapps, Esther McVey and Francis Maude join prominent backbenchers Robert Halfon, Charlotte Leslie and Nigel Evans, plus 150 of their colleagues, for lunch, you know it’s serious. The Conservative Friends of Israel annual jamboree, held today, was an impressive feat of logistics if nothing else.
With the Foreign Secretary fresh off the plane from Geneva, it was always going to be a tough gig selling a nuclear deal with Iran to supporters of Israel. Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador, did not hold his punches, despite knowing Hague since ‘I was a lowly undergraduate and he was the president of the Oxford Union.’ The ambassador said that Israel has ‘serious concerns about an arrangement – even an interim one – that doesn’t require Iran to dismantle a single centrifuge, or a single part of the military aspect of its programme, or any part of its heavy water plutonium reactor , and that leaves current stocks – more than seven tones – of five per cent enriched uranium intact.’
When Hague stood up to reply, the amount of emphasis he placed on the past and the history of Britain’s relationship with Israel was a telling reminder of quite how cold things are today. One backbencher, Andrew Percy, loudly highlighted the tension when it was pointed out that he was wearing a Britain and Canada pin on his lapel, rather that a Britain and Israel one: ‘We’ll, they’ve been sounder than we have on all this.’
Ignoring the global geopolitical picture and never letting a good opportunity go to waste, Tory Chairman Grant Shapps was buttering up Express, Star and Channel 5 proprietor Richard Desmond. The two joked their way through what sounded like some very jolly conversation. But, did Mr S detect a hint of apprehension from Mr Shapps when a photographer, believed to be from Desmond’s own OK! magazine, popped up to snap the two men together?