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'No valid reason' to move British embassy to Jerusalem, says UK cardinal

Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, writes to Liz Truss expressing 'profound concern' over potential relocation, a day after opposition parties rejected move
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Cardinal Vincent Nichols is archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (Cardinal Nichols/Twitter)

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, has called on Prime Minister Liz Truss to reconsider her intention to explore moving the UK's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said he had written to the prime minister to express his "profound concern" over the review of the embassy location. 

It comes a day after the UK's Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party told Middle East Eye they opposed the move and would campaign against it. 

"Such a relocation of the UK embassy would be seriously damaging to any possibility of lasting peace in the region and to the international reputation of the United Kingdom," Nichols said in a statement on Thursday. 

The cardinal added that Pope Francis and leaders of churches in Israel and Palestine had "long called for the international status quo on Jerusalem to be upheld, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions".

"The city must be shared as a common patrimony, never becoming an exclusive monopoly of any party," he added.

"I can see no valid reason why a move needs now to be considered. I ask the Prime Minister earnestly to reconsider the intention she has expressed and to focus all efforts on seeking a two-state solution, in which Jerusalem would have a guaranteed special status."

Land for new embassy identified 

Earlier this week, senior Conservatives called for the embassy to be moved at an event organised by Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI), a pro-Israel lobby group, at the ruling party's annual conference in Birmingham.

Speaking at the event, Jake Berry, the Conservative party chairman, pledged his "unwavering commitment… to build strong relationships with the state of Israel and to support it in its fight to ensure that it remains safe, and that the capital in Jerusalem is the home to our new embassy".

On Tuesday, MEE published a briefing note circulated by CFI to affiliated Conservative members of parliament, which stated that the UK government already owned land in west Jerusalem earmarked as a site for a new embassy. 

The briefing note said a move to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be "a bureaucratic one that recognises the reality on the ground".

MEE also published a "suggested casework response", provided to Conservative MPs and crafted for their constituents regarding a move to Jerusalem. 

An embassy move to Jerusalem would reverse decades of British policy. The UK has long maintained its diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv - even after Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital - as part of a longstanding policy that the city's final status should be decided following negotiations.

In 1967, Israel occupied and annexed the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future state, in a move that has never been recognised by the international community or international law.

If the British embassy were to be moved, Truss would be following in the footsteps of former US President Donald Trump, who, in defiance of international law, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2017, a move that as taken as formal recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the city.

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