Anglo-Saudi relations – is there blood on our hands?

Freddy Chelsom gives his opinion on the UK’s dealings with Saudi Arabia

The United Kingdom has a long history of dubious relations with Saudi Arabia. Despite the country being one of the last absolute monarchies, and being at odds with our Government’s own democratic and humanitarian values in almost every way, politicians still choose to maintain a close relationship with the Arabian powerhouse. Could this be put down simply to their vast supplies of oil, and has our dependence on this commodity forced us to sacrifice our better principles and silently bear witness to flagrant human rights abuses?

UK-Saudi relations began in 1848, and since then Saudi Arabia has become a British Protectorate and then a country in its own right. The British were among the first countries to recognise Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty in 1929, and their close relationship has continued to this day. 

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East; joint ventures between the two countries are worth $17.5 billion. This lucrative trade centres around oil and arms – not exactly the most ethical trade goods. The UK imports over a million tonnes of crude oil from Saudi Arabia every year. More controversially, the UK supplies Saudi Arabia with billions of pounds worth of arms annually. These weapons then go on to be used to commit countless atrocities and acts of violence to oppress people both inside of Saudi Arabia and abroad.

The civil war in Yemen has so far killed hundreds of thousands of people, with many more left sick and malnourished, without even the basic necessities to survive. This lengthy and ongoing conflict is fuelled by the arms that the United Kingdom sells to the Saudi led coalition. The irony of our country profiting off the industry that is fuelling an aid crisis that we then put money back into is clear and painful.

This is not an isolated mistake, as the Saudi regime is systematically oppressive, backward, and affront to Western values. In 2015, a 70 year old man was crucified for taking part in a pro-democracy protest, at the same time that our Ministry of Justice was bidding for a Saudi prisons contract. A British national was also given 360 lashes for transporting homemade wine in his car. It astounds me that our government has the gall to stand by a country that openly commits such barbaric offences against the person.

In October 2018, openly critical Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi disappeared from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi Government later admitted that they had killed Khashoggi. Despite sanctions placed against the people suspected of his murder, the British Government has made no attempts to draw away from the Saudis, instead urging for transparency. What, I ask, is the point of transparency when one does nothing with what one is able to see!

The current and previous governments have been shameless in their support for a despotic and cruel nation, an affront to every value that they claim to hold dear. Sadly, the power of money seems to outweigh any shred of dignity that they ever had. Perhaps in the future, the British Government will be able to overcome its blatant avarice and stand up for the principles on which it is founded.