Analysis: Backing Saudi Arabia leaves the UK with zero moral authority in the world

Ben Wray

CommonSpace editor Ben Wray looks at the shamelessness of Jeremy Hunt’s attitude to Yemen, which is on the verge of the worst famine in 100 years in large part due to UK-backed Saudi air strikes

SOMETIMES the shamelessness of political leader’s is a little too much to bear.

The humiliation of Theresa May in South Africa in August, after she visited Robben island where Nelson Mandela had been locked up, despite having done not one thing to oppose the Apartheid regime in the 1980s, showed that sometimes politicians don’t get away with disgraceful attempts to deceive people into thinking they are on the side of justice.

But whereas May’s PR stunt was pathetic, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s is downright enraging. And unlike the Prime Minister, he might get away it.

Hunt had the sheer cheek to post this tweet, telling his followers not to forget about the “heart-breaking” mass starvation in Yemen, which is on the verge of a famine which the UN say could be the worst in one hundred years, with 13 million lives at stake.

The Foreign Secretary linked to a government appeal for aid for Yemenis. Such a warm hearted government we have, so caring and selfless.

What Hunt failed to mention is the enormous complicity of the UK Government in creating this devastation in Yemen through its support for the Saudi bombing campaign, which has now been running for three years.

And I’m not talking about a sort of vague complicity by association with the despotic Saudi regime. I’m talking about UK built tanks, UK built bombs, UK built aircraft, UK built grenades and UK-trained pilots all utilised in creating this destruction, which human rights organisations agree has been a major contributor to the present food shortage and cholera epidemic in Yemen.

UK foreign policy historian Mark Curtis has pointed to this paragraph in a UK Government paper on the role of UK personnel in maintaining the Saudi air forces.

The Ferret have shown that the RAF has trained the Saudi airforce, while the Daily Mail (of all places) revealed last November that the British army has been in Saudi Arabia training the House of Saud’s army.

If that is not complicity then what is?

Hunt is complicit in war crimes on an epic scale, but has the nerve to ask us to just pay attention for a moment to the plight of the poor Yemenis, like the two things have got nothing to do with one another.

It’s one snapshot of a wider picture of UK-Saudi relations which reveals Britain’s foreign policy to be little more principled, moral or humanitarian than it was during the peak of the British Empire.

This is a problem for the UK establishment. A PR machine works to make UK imperial interest look like benign liberal humanitarianism. ‘Defending democracy and human rights’, ‘the liberal rules-based order’, ‘defeating terrorism’, ‘helping those suffering under tyranny’. This facade collapses in the face of the brute reality of UK-Saudi relations.

READ MORE – Analysis: Why Britain backs the bombing of Yemen and what it means for Scotland

Think about it. How can the UK establishment plausibly claim to defend democracy and human rights when they are arming to the teeth a Saudi royal family’s despotic Wahabbist rule, which stones gay people to death and enshrines patriarchy?

How can the UK establishment plausibly claim to defend a rules-based liberal order when they do next to nothing after a Saudi journalist is allegedly executed in a Saudi embassy in Istanbul?

How can the UK establishment plausibly claim to be trying to defeat terrorism when they are supporting a regime that is widely known to have funded ISIS? (Prince Saud al-Faisal told John Kerry in 2014 that “Daesh is our response to your support for the Da’wa”, the Shia US-backed power in Baghdad.)

How can the UK establishment plausibly claim to be helping those suffering under tyranny when they are providing arms and logistical support for a tyrannical regime which is bombing Yemeni civilians and causing a famine?

Of course Hunt has nothing to say about Saudi Arabia, posting one tweet on the subject in response to Labour criticism. There’s no moralizing when it comes specifically to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

But while any one with sense can see the shamelessness of the UK Government now, the challenge will be to remember when a different international relations issue is all over the front pages.

The next time the UK Government say we simply must bomb Libya to protect human rights and democracy, will the public buy it, or will they remember Saudi Arabia?

When the UK Government claim sanctions must be applied on Russia for alleged poisoning of the Skripals, will the public remember that they didn’t seem so interested in applying sanctions on Saudi Arabia over the alleged killing of Jamal Khasshogi, and that might have something to do with the billions in arms sales from the UK to Saudi Arabia?

The UK has zero moral authority left with which to lecture the world on democracy and human rights. Saudi Arabia proves it. The challenge is to remember.

Picture courtesy of Number 10