A Very British Arms Deal

11th March 2018

bin Sulman

Unelected heads of state take tea – bin Salman meets the Queen

This week, an Arab dictator took tea with the Queen.  That was followed by dinner, jointly hosted by the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge. The same dictator spent time with the Prime Minister at her country house retreat, Chequers.  To round the week off the dictator met Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, in order to put the seal on yet another major weapons deal with the dictatorship he heads up, namely Saudi Arabia.

As Saudi Arabia calls itself a kingdom the British press shy away from the term dictator and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been afforded all the courtesy’s the British state could drum up.  Apologists for the Saudi dictatorship have been busy all week justifying this performance.  The Daily Telegraph started the week fawning over bin Salman stating, “the young Saudi royal charged with undertaking the most radical reform agenda in his country’s history, is the epitome of a human dynamo.”

Not satisfied with transforming the Saudi economy from one dependent on oil, gushed the Telegraph, the young dynamo will ensure that, in a few months time, Saudi women will be allowed to drive.  What fabulous progress! While the UK celebrates the centenary of women being allowed to vote, while the whole world marks the occasion of International Women’s Day on 8th March, the magnanimous Crown Prince will, “in a few months time” permit some of his compatriots to drive.  There have even been photographs in the press of Saudi women attending jazz festivals.  Where will it end?

The three day visit allegedly resulted in trade deals worth £70 billion between the UK and Saudi Arabia with state energy company, Aramco, considering an overseas listing on the London Stock Exchange.  A new UK-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council has been established, with a view to meeting annually, to discuss boosting trade between the two countries.

The real crux of the relationship with Saudi Arabia is weapons sales.  The latest package includes a further £5 billion deal with BAE Systems for 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets, existing examples of which are deployed by the Saudi led coalition in the bombardment of schools, hospitals and civilians in Yemen.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has called upon the government to abandon weapons sales to Saudi Arabia stating,

“Theresa May should use this visit to announce the UK will no longer supply arms to Saudi Arabia while the devastating Saudi-led bombing of Yemen continues and make clear Britain’s strong opposition to widespread human and civil rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.”

Andrew Smith for the UK based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) added,

“Despite the spin surrounding the crown prince, he is a figurehead for one of the world’s most authoritarian dictatorships.  The regime has carried out atrocities against Saudi people for decades.”

The United Nations, in a report published late in 2017, has accused the Saudi-led coalition of failing “to mitigate the impact of its operations on civilians”, in relation to its intervention in Yemen.  According to UN figures the war in Yemen has resulted in 10,000 dead and 40,000 injured. The war and its economic effects are driving the largest food security emergency in the world with more than 17 million people facing dire food shortages. Nearly seven million of those are one step away from famine in Yemen.  The situation was further exacerbated by a cholera outbreak late last year, claiming 1,500 lives according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

How much of this was discussed over tea with the Queen, dinner with the Princes, or over sherry with the Prime Minister is open to speculation.  Just to make sure that no stone was left unturned in the welcome afforded by the British state, bin Salman also popped in to Lambeth Palace to meet Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Welby is reported to have expressed his “distress” about the humanitarian situation in Yemen and in a statement from Lambeth Palace is said to have,

“shared his concern about limits placed on Christian worship in the kingdom and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion.”

Looks like another tough day for the Crown Prince there!

Thousands did turn out in Whitehall last week to oppose the visit and draw attention to the use of UK manufactured weapons in the killing of civilians in Yemen.

BAE Systems also found themselves on the sharp end of protests about their sponsorship of the Great Exhibition of the North, organised by the NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI).  Reluctance to engage with the Exhibition was voiced by a number of high profile celebrities including Nadine Shah and Lauren Laverne. Linked to a public petition, protesting against the war in Yemen, this resulted in BAE withdrawing its £500k sponsorship for the event.

The online protest petition, Art not Arms, was launched by a “coalition of artists and cultural workers”, calling for the Great Exhibition of the North to end its “unethical partnership with weapons maker BAE Systems”. It described the company’s involvement as “artwashing on a grand scale”, and “all about brand association and PR based upon the false notion of ‘corporate social responsibility’”.

The petition, pointed out that “British arms companies including BAE” had made more than £6bn from sales to Saudi Arabia during the ongoing war in Yemen said there was no place in arts and culture “for those involved in the international arms trade”.

Perhaps the Queen, the Princes, the Prime Minister, or even the Archbishop of Canterbury, could bear this in mind next time they decide to invite one of their pet dictators round for tea.


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