Time to end Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with Saudi Arabia

Rolling out the red carpet for the Saudi Crown Prince shows the Tories have the wrong priorities, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

WHEN the government recently rolled out the red carpet to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it claimed that our “special relationship” with the Saudi dictatorship has made “both of our countries safer and more prosperous.”

Additionally, throughout his visit, the Tories continually insisted that the Crown Prince was a point of firm support for British policy in the world.

Nothing could be further than the truth. Recent years have exposed more than ever that not only is the Saudi autocratic regime repressive and reactionary at home, but by encouraging destabilisation and intervening in other countries it also helps to spread the influence of the sort of extremism that also threatens us here.

The truth is that these policies of the Crown Prince are a destabilising factor in the Middle East — a region more desperate than ever for peace and diplomatic progress.

Furthermore, when looking at the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia it is hard to see how the British government can justify its much repeated claim that raising “concerns” within the framework of this “special relationship” advances human rights.

As Amnesty International’s Gulf researcher Kareem Chehayeb put it in January, “Saudi Arabia’s biggest obstacle to progress lies in its systematic human rights violations.”

In explaining this view, Chehayeb notes that Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on activists, journalists, academics and other dissidents has intensified in the past months since Mohammad bin Salman became Crown Prince, and that Saudi government policy also continues to include systematic discrimination against women and continued persecution of the Shi’ite minority.

The same could also be said of another of Britain’s close relationships in the Middle East where the British government claims “concerns” are raised, namely that with Bahrain.

Today, despite the protests of recent years, repression in Bahrain is as bad as ever. The opposition parties have been criminalised, senior human rights defenders are behind bars or in exile, citizenship is being withdrawn from civil and religious activists alike, torture is routine in jails and judicial executions have been resumed.

This is all the more worrying as under the Tory government since 2010, Britain has taken on new naval bases in the Gulf, one of which is in Bahrain and the other in Oman.

In response to campaigners against the Saudi prince’s visit, the Tory government also remarkably claimed that it takes its “defence exports responsibilities very seriously.”

If this was the case, the British government would join the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, German and Norway in putting restrictions on arms exports that may be used by the Saudi regime in the war on Yemen, as part of which widely reported serious breaches of international law have taken place.

Instead, the reality is the British government has licensed £4.6 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the Crown Prince launched the war upon Yemen.

This war has involved the Saudis terrorising the civilian population with endless bombing, killing civilians, including children. The country’s infrastructure is being destroyed from the air, largely by British-made planes, piloted by Saudis who are trained by Britain.

Alongside this, the Saudi regime is key to the blockade of Yemen — a cruel siege on a country which imports 90 per cent of its food staples.

The facts of this crisis in Yemen from the war and blockade are shocking, which is why the UN has termed it the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.

Restrictions on aid and the import of essential goods have prevented or delayed the entry of food, medicine and other vital goods, putting millions of Yemenis at risk.

According to the UN, 11 million Yemeni children are in danger from the war, famine, cholera and so forth.

With this criminal war and blockade on Yemen also considered, how can one really argue that this “special relationship” will help peace in the Middle East?

Labour has rightly put forward a different approach to how it would deal with these questions in government, as part of a commitment to placing conflict resolution at the centre of foreign policy, with Jeremy Corbyn calling out Theresa May’s support for the Saudi war on the people of Yemen at Prime Minister’s Questions during the visit.

Additionally, speaking at the Scottish Labour Party Conference, Corbyn said: “What’s needed now is both a ceasefire, and a concerted international effort to achieve a negotiated political settlement.”

Alongside this, shadow minister for international development Kate Osamor addressed the demonstration opposite Downing Street during the prince’s visit, where she clearly outlined the need to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia while the war on Yemen continues, end military training of Saudi forces and to insist upon open access for aid to Yemen.

Whatever the Tories may say to justify their arms sales, it is lifting the blockade and ending the war that are preconditions for a lasting political solution for the people of Yemen, not rolling out the red carpet for the Saudi Crown Prince.

First published by the Morning Star.