UK Support for Saudi Arabia Is a Product of Tory Greed
A solution to British complicity will never come from a government to whom Saudi excesses in Yemen are a boon says Ghassan Mohamed
Last Sunday marked the hundredth anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War. Prime Minister Theresa May took to social media to commemorate the centennial —and it stunk of hypocrisy.
For despite such sombre posts, the Conservative establishment is profiting from the Saudi war in Yemen, now the world’s ‘worst humanitarian crisis’. Tory elites have made millions through U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia at the expense of thousands of Yemeni lives. No calls to end Britain’s complicity in this brutal conflict will be answered by a party that places profit above principles. Indeed, a true change in U.K. policy towards Saudi Arabia will only come from a Labour government.
The Tories have done more to enable than curb Saudi Arabia’s abhorrent behaviour. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi stands as a prime example. In light of evidence that the order behind the journalist’s assassination came from the ‘highest levels’, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was careful not to implicate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) in his condemnation. In a roundabout manner, he warned that ‘those responsible’ would be held ‘fully accountable’.
Weeks later, no punitive action has been taken against Saudi Arabia. In the interim, the Kingdom has killed off another of its critics: Turki Al-Jasser, who ran a satirical handle on Twitter that highlighted the human rights abuses of the royal family, died of torture earlier of last week in Saudi prison. Britain’s lukewarm response to the Khashoggi murder was tantamount to a free pass for MBS to murder with impunity. As a result, another Saudi journalist is dead.
We have seen this pattern come to fruition dozens of times before. In spite of all of the Crown Prince’s atrocities over the past year —jailing Women’s Rights activists, indiscriminately bombing Yemeni civilians, sparking a diplomatic spat with Canada— Conservative criticism never rises above vague statements of disapproval.
Why such limp criticism? The answer is simple: Theresa May and other high-profile Conservatives have vested financial interests in Saudi Arabia, chiefly in the sale of arms. To paraphrase Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, this means that no human rights violations or war crimes are egregious enough to upset relations —or business— with the Saudi kingdom.
Take the horrific Saudi airstrike on a school bus in August that killed over 40 children in Yemen. Hunt remained silent on the tragedy for weeks until finally confronted in a BBC interview. “What happened with that bus was truly awful, and I think it’s impossible not to be deeply shocked,” he said, stating the obvious. But seconds later, he defended the Saudi kingdom as a ‘very, very important military ally’.
But why is Britain’s military relationship with Saudi Arabia so crucial? Hunt repeatedly cites national security concerns, asserting that Saudi counter-intelligence ‘prevents bombs from going off in the streets of London’. Seldom discussed, however, is the lucrative British-Saudi arms trade. Since the war in Yemen started in March 2015, Conservative governments have authorised the sale of £4.7bn in arms. And whilst Hunt and his ilk argue that such sales help keep the U.K. safe, it is more the Tory establishment that profits —quite literally— from arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
BAE Systems, Inc. is one of the top suppliers of arms to the Saudi monarchy. Reports indicate that the bomb used in August’s school bus attack was produced by the British defence firm. Incidentally, Theresa May’s husband, Philip, works as a ‘relationship manager’ for one of the company’s largest shareholders.
The amount of money that the Mays themselves have profited from BAE sales to Saudi Arabia is difficult to ascertain. But given the gross amount of capital in the arms trade with the Kingdom, millions of pounds would be far from ludicrous. That a dark feedback loop exists between the Mays’ investment portfolio and Mohammed bin Salman’s recklessness in Yemen is indisputable.
But the Prime Minister and her husband are not alone in welcoming Saudi blood money. A recent exposé revealed Boris Johnson’s £14,000 ‘freebie’ visit to Saudi Arabia weeks before Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination. The former Foreign Secretary is among 29 Conservative MPs who have taken all-expenses-paid trips to the Kingdom since March 2015 — the beginning of the Saudi war in Yemen. Those 29 MPs are out of a total of 34.
U.K. support for Saudi Arabia, then, is chiefly the product of Tory greed. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the overwhelming evidence that links Conservative capitalist interests to the bloodlust of the Saudi Crown Prince. A solution to British complicity will never come from a government to whom Saudi excesses in Yemen are a boon.
Though cynics accuse Labour of maintaining just as cosy relations with Saudi Arabia, their views are misguided. This is no longer the party of Tony Blair — whose Institute for Global Change is engaged in a £12 million deal with Riyadh. Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has returned to its grassroots origins, including in the realm of foreign policy. Nearly 63 percent of the British public opposes U.K arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, Labour has called for suspending all arms sales to the Kingdom, at least until a comprehensive, independent, U.N.-led investigation into Saudi war crimes in Yemen is conducted.
Pledges to halt arms sales are far from empty rhetoric. In parliament, Emily Thornberry continuously implores Theresa May and her government to quit their policy of arming Saudi Arabia. The Shadow Foreign Secretary even imbibed the #StopArmingSaudi hashtag, popular among Britain’s anti-war community, in a tweet on her participation in the French National Assembly’s Joint Parliamentary Summit on Yemen.
Besides Thornberry, Labour MPs Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Chris Williamson, and Diane Abbott are outspoken on Britain’s complicity in the Yemen war. All work closely with Stop The War Coalition, speaking at the advocacy group’s events. MP Emma Lewell-Buck routinely highlights the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Yemen on both social media and on the Labour bench. Unsurprisingly, one is hard-pressed to find the same level of concern amongst the Tories.
It is critical that concerned Brits continue to decry this government’s enabling of Saudi human rights abuses and war crimes: whether through amplifying hashtags such as #StopArmingSaudi and #YemenCantWait, sharing articles exposing Conservative links to Saudi Arabia, or participating in events with Stop The War Coalition and its affiliates.
We cannot wait for the Tories to forgo their interests in favour of doing what is ethically correct. Only a government led by Jeremy Corbyn will cease Britain’s shameful support of the Saudi regime, its megalomaniac Crown Prince, and the war in Yemen — and establish a foreign policy that will end British involvement in foreign wars, preserve human rights, and, most importantly, uphold our moral standing.
Ghassan Mohamed is a Saudi activist currently living in exile. He resided for many years in the UK after fleeing his home land, fearing arrest for his whistle-blowing activities and support for human rights causes.