UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

UKLFI statement on FCDO refusal of FOI request by We Believe in Israel and B’nai B’rith UK

The Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) has refused a joint Freedom of Information (FOI) request regarding audits of the Palestinian Authority made by We Believe in Israel and B’nai B’rith UK.   UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) are disappointed, but unsurprised by this refusal, which is consistent with an institutional unwillingness to be subjected to the transparency we are entitled to expect of government, especially regarding taxpayer funded foreign aid distribution during a cost of living crisis at home.

The FCDO’s stated reasons for refusal are extremely tenuous, formulaic, and do not stand up to even basic scrutiny. They claim that the documents include third party personal data, and that they are exempt from disclosure under Section 27 (International Relations) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Third party personal data is easily redacted, and doing so is in fact common practice in public authority disclosure, be that FOI or subject access requests. As for the Section 27 objection, the FCDO relies on section 27(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act which applies to information whose disclosure would be likely to prejudice relations between the UK and any other State or territory. However, we do not see how disclosure of audit reports on the use of British aid could prejudice relations between the UK and the PA.

In 2018, Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, submitted a very similar FOI request to the Department for International Development (DFID), before its re-incorporation into the FCDO. This was done with a view to establishing why British taxpayers had been funding salaries for convicted terrorists and their families, as well as families of suicide bombers, under the notorious “Pay for Slay” scheme, despite audits which Ministers claimed showed the contrary. The request was refused by DFID on grounds similar to those now claimed by the FCDO, but this refusal was overruled by the then Information Commissioner. This precedent still stands, and it is surprising that the FCDO seems to be unaware of it.

Jonathan Turner commented: “The FCDO’s recent actions only underscore the pressing need for greater transparency and accountability when distributing foreign aid. We will continue to advocate for the disclosure of vital information, and call upon the FCDO to reconsider its stance. It is the British public’s right to know how their taxes are being allocated, especially where unresolved concerns exist such as whether or not the British public are somehow still funding a scheme which only serves to promote and incentivise terror.”