Kemi Badenoch: Trading on Gaza’s genocide

Britain’s business secretary wants to strike a new trade deal with Israel amid its brutal onslaught on Gaza.

16 May 2024
Kemi Badenoch and Nir Barkat. (Photo: Department for Business / Flickr)

Kemi Badenoch and Nir Barkat. (Photo: Department for Business / Flickr)

  • Badenoch is negotiating with an Israeli minister who threatens to “wipe out” its enemies 
  • UK-Israel trade talks took place a week after the IDF killed three British aid workers
  • She decided to continue arms exports to Israel at the same time

The UK government, led by business secretary Kemi Badenoch, has been trying to finalise a new trade agreement with Israel throughout its invasion of Gaza. 

The latest – and fifth – round of negotiations between officials of the two countries began on 8 April.

That was just seven days after three British aid workers were killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza. 

The talks on a free trade agreement (FTA) continued even as UN agencies reported over 33,000 Palestinians had been killed by Israel and the Israeli government announced a date had been set for invading Rafah.

These negotiations were hosted by the UK, with a delegation of Israeli officials travelling to London for in-person discussions. 

“An upgraded trade deal will play to British strengths and unlock trade for our world-leading services and digital sectors”, the UK’s Department for Business and Trade noted.

The negotiations are another aspect of Britain’s complicity in genocide, adding to its military and diplomatic support for Israel as it engages in mass attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza.

On the same day the trade talks began in April, Badenoch also authorised continued British arms exports to Israel.


UK approved arms for Israel days after it killed British...


Innocents in Gaza?

The negotiations involve high level talks between Badenoch and her Israeli counterpart Nir Barkat, the economy minister.

Barkat is tipped to take over from Netanyahu as leader of the Likud party and has been outspoken in support of Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.

Last month, Barkat used air quotes in a media interview as he spoke of “the innocent people in Gaza”, suggesting he does not believe there are innocent people in the besieged territory.

Barkat has also said Israel’s fresh experience of warfare in Gaza is set to boost military technology sales and its economy. 

“You should always realise in the wars Israel had we had a dip in the economy but immediately after we had a huge spike back of innovation. And the knowledge and the experience Israel is gathering in this round of violence is second to none,” Barkat told reporters in February.

‘True friend’ of Israel

Badenoch last met Barkat in person in March this year in Abu Dhabi. She said it was a “productive meeting” and that they discussed how Israel is promoting a new trade agreement with Britain “while fighting a war”.

Badenoch earlier met Barkat to drive forward the negotiations on a visit to Israel in March 2023. She attended a reception at the UK ambassador’s residence and met over 60 leading UK and Israeli businesses and government officials. 

On that visit Badenoch met with Israel’s Ministry of Defence while Private Eye revealed she also met representatives from Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest arms company that aids its military’s attacks on Palestinians.

“Following her discussions with Barkat, Badenoch described a “shared ambition to negotiate a modern, innovative services free trade agreement to mutually benefit both of our economies,” adding that “services will be at the heart of this deal.”

Barkat called Badenoch “a true friend of the state of Israel” and said that they had been working “very creatively together.” He added that “the agreement being formed with Britain is expected to be the largest, most comprehensive and most modern for the State of Israel”.

Badenoch was appointed trade secretary by prime minister Liz Truss in September 2022 and first met Barkat in London the following February. 


Opposition to Britain negotiating a trade agreement with Israel has come from various quarters. 

The TUC has said “it does not believe the government should engage in these negotiations, given Israel’s persistent violation of international law, UN resolutions and systematic violations of Palestinian labour and human rights”.

“Opposition to Britain negotiating a trade agreement with Israel has come from various quarters”

It urges the government to end the talks, halt arms sales and military collaboration and stop the UK’s trade in goods from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Before the latest phase in the Gaza war, the Balfour Project, which supports equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis and highlights Britain’s record in Palestine, noted that a new trade agreement “stands to make British businesses and citizens complicit in human rights abuses”. 

It would send a message to the Israeli Government that its continued killing and denial of rights of Palestinians would not only be tolerated by the UK “but materially rewarded”.

Big deal?

Negotiations on an FTA began in July 2022, while Britain tried to replace treaties with various countries it had lost due to Brexit.

A British document outlining the government’s “strategic approach” to the trade negotiations with Israel notes: “The UK is proud of its deep and historic relationship with Israel. As open, innovative and thriving economies, the UK and Israel are close allies and strategic partners. 

“Israel is one of the largest, most vibrant economies in the region, with which we already enjoy a strong trading relationship”.

But UK trade relations with Israel are small-scale, highlighting how easy it would be for British ministers to curb them if they wanted. Israel is Britain’s 41st largest trading partner, accounting for 0.3 percent of total UK trade.


UK military support for Israel’s genocide was pre-planned


‘Wipe you off the face of the Earth’

Perhaps incredibly, the British civil servant leading the talks, James Clarke, wrote an article in the Jewish Chronicle in 2022, wondering if there might be any objections to the UK striking a deal with Israel. 

He wrote: “As the Chief Negotiator for the UK-Israel Free Trade Agreement (FTA), I want to understand any current barriers to increasing trade with Israel”.

Clarke’s willingness to ignore routine Israeli crimes in the illegally-occupied territories has been furthered by his boss, Badenoch, as she continues to lend legitimacy to the trade strategy of Nir Barkat amid a genocide.

Barkat has barely hidden his views. Last October, as Israel had begun its bombardment of Gaza, he delivered a message about how his country deals with its enemies, specifically if Hezbollah in Lebanon opened up a northern front in the war on Gaza. 

“Israel has a very clear message to our enemies. We are saying to them, look what’s happening in Gaza—you are going to get the same treatment if you attack us. We are going to wipe you off the face of the Earth.”