CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Cameron's Tories point to isolation (Financial Times)

If the Tories win the election, they will find themselves oddly isolated from mainstream conservatism in both the US and Europe, writes Gideon Rachman. David Cameron's decision to distance his party from the US has left it without any coherent focus for its foreign policy.

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2. Gordon Brown must now tell the voters why they deserve more of him (Daily Telegraph)

It is not enough for Brown to offer a demolition of the opposition's economic policies, writes Mary Riddell; he needs to create a sense of optimism. He should begin by promising not to raise VAT.

3. Thirteen years on, New Labour has come full circle (Times)

Like the Conservatives in 1997, Labour has decided to pursue a strategy of fear, not hope, writes Rachel Sylvester. It is the Tories whose theme will be "Things can only get better".

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4. Hacks and the Yard? We're still asking (Guardian)

Scotland Yard has gone to extraordinary lengths to suppress evidence of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World, says Nick Davies. But despite the Yard's attempt to mislead the public and the press, the questions will not go away.

5. Obama's 21st-century world order (Independent)

Barack Obama's instinct in devising foreign policy reflects an unusual ability to see the other side's point of view, writes Mary Dejevsky. By abolishing talk of the "axis of evil" and appealing directly to Iranians, he has made it harder to demonise the US.

6. South Africa will survive the killing of a neofascist -- like in 1994 (Guardian)

The murder of Eugene Terre'Blanche will not be the spark for a race war, writes Gillian Slovo. His Afrikaner Resistance Movement suffered an irreparable defeat at the time of the 1994 election.

7. An amazing Afrikaner -- wrong about everything (Times)

Elsewhere, Hugo Rifkind says that Terre'Blanche may have exploited the language of a segregationist, but he was actually something far worse -- a racial supremacist.

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8. Israel knows apartheid has no future (Financial Times)

After decades of illegally occupying Palestinian land, Israeli leaders are finally acknowledging reality, writes Mustafa Barghouthi.

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9. I wish I'd had the NI policy to call on as a Tory candidate (Independent)

The former Tory MP Michael Brown says that although the party's pledge to reverse Labour's planned National Insurance increase may be dodgy economics, it is also smart politics. The Tories have armed their candidates with the ammunition they will need on the doorstep.

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10. The election for change (Times)

In a special full-length editorial, the Times sets out the changes it wants to see in Britain over the next five years.

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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.