The Conservatives, unlike the LibDems, have been as quiet on the recent stories about Prince Bandar’s role in the Saudi arms deals (known as Al-Yamamah, "the dove"), and the alleged cover-up by Lord Goldsmith, as they were when the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation was dropped (it was about to uncover what we’re starting to find out now).

The head of the Defence Export Services Organisation, funded by £15million
of taxpayers’ money, is always an arms industry executive. In today’s Times
Matthew Parris says
the orthodoxy that there should be a homegrown defence industry has led to an unnaturally close relationship between the government and the
only major British defence manufacturer, BAE:

"Why are any former ministers, let alone former defence ministers,
allowed to serve on the boards of the Ministry of Defence’s suppliers?
Why are former civil servants allowed to advise or work for such
companies? These are some of the questions that should be asked if we
are to tackle the endemic culture of the arms trade – or our part in it
– beyond the occasional newsworthy scandal."

…"Thus (as any free-market Tory ought to have cautioned, but the
Conservative Party never did) we have both wasted taxpayers’ money and
ended up dependent on foreigners: dangerously dependent, in this case,
on a single foreign power. We would have done better to have shopped
around abroad more widely for our arms, in the first place."

There’s also the allegations that Oxfordshire businessman and prominent Al-Yamamah middleman, Wafic Said, has donated money to David Cameron (possibly up to £550, 000 through auctions). Cameron spoke in support of an International Arms Trade Treaty over a year ago but didn’t question any existing British contracts:

"The British arms industry already plays by the
rules, operating to some of the highest standards in the world. An
International Arms Trade Treaty would help force less scrupulous
countries to raise their game, and stop selling arms to unsuitable
regimes. Britain already has its house in order; it is time now for
other countries to follow suit.”

Just five months earlier Gerald Howarth (MP for a big BAE constituency and then Shadow Defence Minister) had hailed the sale of the Eurofighter Typhoons as:

"welcome news for the UK defence industry and demonstrates the enduring relationship between Saudi Arabia and the UK."

An argument can be made that British jobs come first, that
strategically a well-armed Sunni Saudi Arabia balances out an
aggressive Shia Iran, or even that we need to placate the House of Saud
in return for oil and intelligence on (its!) terrorist networks, but there is no question that it fails Cameron’s "unsuitable regime" yardstick.

As experienced diplomat Carne Ross has written in today’s Guardian:

"The story of possible corruption between BAE and the Saudi government,
and how the British government ignored it, is shocking. But we should
not regard this episode as an aberration. Instead, it should force us
to question the way foreign policy is thought about and practised in
government today."

…"Though not permitted to know about it, we can question the paramountcy
of security in our relations with Saudi Arabia. It has one of the worst
human rights records in the region; its record in imprisonment without
trial and denial of political rights is at least as bad as that of Iran
or Syria. A simple question for those who affirm the realism of British
policy towards Saudi Arabia: are political repression and autocracy
likely to feed terrorism?"

Deputy Editor

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