UK Government criticised for desperately trying to plug the gap in lost EU trade with Gulf dodgy deals
UK PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has been condemned by human rights bodies, campaigners and Scottish politicians for her trip to the Jordan and Saudi Arabia which she hopes to use to cement security and trade deals.
She is scheduled to visit Jordan and Saudi Arabia today (3 April), with the goal of building both security and commercial ties prompting critics to call it a “quick buck” trip for Brexit.
It is feared by Scots MSPs and human rights groups that the decision to leave the EU will result in a marked increase in weapons sales and economic cooperation with some of the most reactionary governments in the Gulf region.
Foreign and Commonwealth office civil servants last months commented on the UK Government’s “empire 2.0” strategy which seeks not only to increase trade outside the European continent but also in oil-rich absolutist monarchies of the Gulf to plug the loss of trade from the EU.
“In desperately seeking new international trade deals to plug the economic gap created by Brexit, Theresa May should be mindful of who she’s doing business with.” Christina Mckelvie MSP
Speaking to CommonSpace Christina Mckelvie MSP, convenor of the Scottish Parliament's equalities and human rights committee, said: “We already know the Tories plan to use Brexit as a cover to systematically unpick the progress made across Europe on human rights. Just days after triggering Article 50, the Tories are rattling sabres at our closest friends and neighbours in the EU while cosying-up to regimes with a dismal record on rights.
“There are troubling reports in the papers today of investigations underway into war crimes perpetrated by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, while the Saudi authorities have been widely criticised by Amnesty International for their disgraceful record on freedom of expression and minority rights – with torture, discrimination against women and summary executions commonplace.
“Establishing peace and prosperity in Europe has been one of the greatest successes of the EU – achieved through a shared commitment to free trade and cooperation and underpinned by the values of democracy and human rights.
“In desperately seeking new international trade deals to plug the economic gap created by Brexit, Theresa May should be mindful of who she’s doing business with. People who hold dear the values of democracy and the rule of law will take a dim view of a Prime Minister willing to sell out on those values to make a quick buck by selling arms to authoritarian regimes and human rights abusers.”
“There is so much we can do together on trade, with immense potential for Saudi investment to provide a boost to the British economy.” Theresa May
The UK PM’s trip to the region follows the attempted citizens’ arrest of Saudi major general Ahmed Asari in London while he was addressing UK MP’s at the thinktank, the European council on foreign relations (ECFR). General Asari is a leading adviser to the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince and has had a hand in the heavy bombing of Yemen which has resulted in widespread destruction and famine.
A UN humanitarian aid official in Yemen has estimated the civilian death toll in the nearly has reached 10,000 in the two year conflict. During the period the UK has maintained a firm relationship with Saudi Arabia as an ally against Iran and it states “a stabilising force in the region.”
Andrew Smith, spokesperson for the body Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), said: “If the UK is to play a positive role in bringing peace then it must end its complicity and end arms sales.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy for the Bahraini institutes for rights and democracy (BIRD), said: “The Saudi regime has an appalling record domestically and internationally. It tortures Saudi people and has supported crackdowns all over the Middle East.”
“We already know the Tories plan to use Brexit as a cover to systematically unpick the progress made across Europe on human rights.” Christina Mckelvie MSP
Saudi Arabia is a major customer for UK trade, importing £6.6bn of goods and services in 2015. Saudi intelligence services also work closely with their UK counterparts which means British prime ministers tend to offer little criticism of the country’s human rights policies.
This is not the first time the UK Government has toured the region seeking deals that would replace EU trade. In January of this year, the UK agreed a £100m defence deal to help develop fighter jets for the Turkish air force which resulted in heavy criticism from groups that pointed to the Turkish state’s purge of its army, academia and free press.
An FCO spokesperson referred CommonSpace to a statement by the PM which said: “It is clearly in the U.K.’s security and prosperity interests to support Jordan and Saudi Arabia in tackling regional challenges to create a more stable region, and in delivering their ambitious reform programs to ensure their own stability.
“If the UK is to play a positive role in bringing peace then it must end its complicity and end arms sales.” Andrew Smith
“There is so much we can do together on trade, with immense potential for Saudi investment to provide a boost to the British economy.”
Despite asking for comment directly from the foreign secretary Boris Johnson, CommonSpace was told the minister’s office was not available to comment on the links between Brexit and new, questionable Gulf deals.
Saudi Arabia is the UK’s most important arms client but despite the start of the destructive Yemen campaign, UK government ministers have granted export licences for more than £3.3bn of aircraft, munitions and other equipment.
The Scottish Tories could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
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