In a previous post (20 July) we reported on the correspondence we had with Mr Glen MP concerning the government’s policy towards Saudi Arabia. This was prompted by the increasing number of executions and public floggings taking place in that country. Both are at high levels and are greater than the previous year. We noted that the president of France had made public statements condemning this practice. We might also have noted that Sweden has suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Mr Glen forwarded a letter from a FCO minister Mr Tobias Ellwood saying that these matters were raised with the Saudi authorities and that it was a ‘human rights priority for the UK government’. Because it was part of Sharia law they did not anticipate change in the near future however.
There the matter might have rested. But on 3 August it was reported widely in the press that the FCO has dropped any explicit reference to the abolition of the death penalty. In response to the cuts, they are relabelling its six global thematic priorities of which the abolition of the death penalty world wide was one. There are now to be three, relating to human rights; democratic values and the rule of law. Reference to the death penalty has gone. The ‘human rights countries of priority’ is to be replaced with the more anodyne ‘human rights priority countries’.
We noted at the end of the last blog that the reason for the lack of open criticism by the government was almost certainly connected with arms sales to Saudi.
Then, in the current issue of Private Eye (6 August No 1397) they report that Tobias Ellwood had accepted Saudi hospitality to a attend a £6,000 a head fact-finding visit organised by the arms industry lobby group UK Defence Forum. This took place in 2013 when there were bribery allegations concerning Saudi defence deals and the defence giant EADS. The Private Eye piece was in connection with Mr Tobias’s complaint at having to ‘watch the pennies’ on his MP and ministerial salary.
So in just over a week after sending us the letter, the FCO seems to have downgraded its policy on the death penalty. This is deeply disappointing and it seems strange that Mr. Ellwood appeared unaware that the policy was to change only days after sending his reply to us. We shall be raising these matters with Mr. Glen.