Saudi Arabia’s ambassador has warned of “potentially serious repercussions” of a breakdown in relations with the UK and complained of a lack of “mutual respect”.
Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz singled out the cancellation of a deal to train prison staff in the Gulf state as he railed against an “alarming change in the way Saudi Arabia is discussed in Britain”.
In an unusual public intervention, he wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph in which he warned the wealthy kingdom would not be “lectured to” and urged respect for its strict system of Sharia law.
He said: “One recent example of this mutual respect being breached was when Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition, claimed that he had convinced Prime Minister David Cameron to cancel a prison consultancy contract with Saudi Arabia worth £5.9 million.” “This coincided with speculation linking the contract’s cancellation to a number of domestic events in the Kingdom.
“If the extensive trade links between the two countries are going to be subordinate to certain political ideologies, then this vital commercial exchange is going to be at risk. “We want this relationship to continue but we will not be lectured to by anyone. Hasty decisions prompted by short-term gains often do more harm than good in the longer term.”
Mr Corbyn lobbied against the contract at the same time as urging the Government to intervene over a number of Saudi human rights abuses including the planned execution of a protester, who was just 17 at the time of his alleged offence.
He said the Government had been “shamed into” ditching the deal – which had initially been the only contract to survive Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s axeing of a controversial commercial body.
Downing Street claimed it had been a financial decision unrelated to cases including the threatened flogging of a 74-year-old ex-pat British grandfather who breached strict alcohol laws. Karl Andree has served his time in jail but is still locked up as Saudi officials wait to carry out the lashings, according to his family, despite Mr Cameron pledging a personal intervention.
“Our justice system is based on Sharia law and implemented by our independent judiciary,” the ambassador wrote.
“Just as we respect the local traditions, customs, laws and religion of Britain, we expect Britain to grant us this same respect.”
The Prime Minister has repeatedly defended the UK’s close relations with the Saudis – pointing to the role its intelligence played in foiling a plot to bomb a freight aircraft in UK airspace. That – the ambassador suggested – saved thousands of lives not the hundreds claimed by the PM.
He wrote: “The importance of Saudi Arabia to the UK and the Middle East’s security, as well as its vital role in the larger Arab world as the epicentre of Islam, seems to be of little concern to those who have fomented this change. “Yet it should be worrying to all those who do not want to see potentially serious repercussions that could damage the mutually beneficial strategic partnership that our countries have so long enjoyed.”
He concluded: “To further our shared strategic interests in the years ahead as we confront a variety of threats, it is crucial that Saudi Arabia be treated with the respect it has unwaveringly afforded the United Kingdom.”