Defence Secretary Michael Fallon signed a secret pact on 19 September that should horrify Britain.
The UK has struck a new ‘Military and Security Cooperation Agreement’ with Saudi Arabia. This is despite human rights groups routinely accusing the kingdom of war crimes in Yemen. And it’s regardless of massive public opposition to UK arms sales to such regimes.
Fallon also signed the agreement just days after reports emerged of Saudi Arabia carrying out “a coordinated crackdown on dissent”. Authorities have allegedly arrested 30 high-profile people, according to Human Rights Watch.
But none of this stopped the British government cementing its dedication to the kingdom with a brand new deal.
Fallon signed the agreement with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a trip to the Red Sea port city of Jeddah. But neither the UK government nor the Saudi state media that covered the story have provided details of what the pact contains.
The agreement will promote cooperation between our two countries across the Defence and Security sectors, helping Saudi Arabia better protect her national security, including counter-terrorism, intelligence, training and education, medical services and logistics.
But it hasn’t provided the British public with a proper account of what this new “cooperation” entails.
What history tells us
We can, however, look to the UK government’s dealings with Saudi Arabia in the past to understand what “cooperation” between them usually involves.
The former has, for example, approved around £3.9bn-worth of arms to the latter since the 2015 election. In fact, some reports put the figure higher. War Child UK claims British arms dealers have earned more than £6bn from the regime since it began bombing Yemen in 2015. And these sales show no signs of abating; even though Saudi Arabia has dropped bombs on residential buildings in Yemen filled with civilians. The regime has also essentially blocked humanitarian planes from reaching people in a country where nearly seven million “are close to slipping into a state of famine”.
But still, the arms keep flowing.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to invest £3bn of UK taxpayers’ money in Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states. That commitment, made in December 2016, was specifically for ‘defence investment’ as part of May’s GCC-UK Strategic Partnership. Saudi Arabia is a member of the GCC.
But the Conservative government’s plans for “cooperation” with the Gulf states goes far beyond the defence sector. In her speech to the GCC in 2016, where she laid out plans for the £3bn investment, May said that a post-Brexit UK will seek “to build the closest possible commercial and economic relationship” with these Gulf states. And the signs show that economic relationship already promising to bloom.
Too close for comfort
In short, the current government is binding Britain to Saudi Arabia very, very closely. And it’s doing so while the UN has called for an international investigation into human rights violations in Yemen. The organisation labelled the dire situation in the country an “entirely man-made catastrophe”. And it’s one that Saudi Arabia bears huge responsibility for.
But the British government isn’t rejecting the country after its conduct; it’s embracing it tighter. And that’s a reaction that should horrify us all.
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Featured image via Chatham House/Flickr