..in which Forbes angers a Saudi Prince

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud is annoyed.

Forbes has long been the ultimate list. Featuring on the magazine’s list of the world’s wealthiest is an aspiration of many an entrepreneur, while, for the rest of us, it’s ranking of billionaires shows us just who actually is in charge.

But today the magazine has just infuriated Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, the man who it believes the wealthiest in the Middle East. In a brutal statement of misgiving, the CFO of Alwaleed’s company, Kingdom Holding, said, “Forbes has no intention of improving the accuracy of their valuation of our holdings”. While in another statement he said, “I never knew that Forbes was a magazine of sensational dirt-digging and rumor-filled stories.” 

So how has Forbes provoked such a stir? How is one of the most powerful men in the Middle East moved by some shallow rich list? Here’s why: The article headlining Forbes’ March 2013 magazine not only paints the picture of a man obsessed by money, but gives an interesting insight into the region.

Alwaleed, Forbes argues, annually exaggerates his wealth by billions just so he can appear on their rich list; such is his obsession with the competition. He uses his public company – Kingdom Holding, which uses the tagline, “The World’s Foremost Value Investor” – to inflate his value. Only this year, Forbes gave him a net worth far less than Alwaleed would have liked. Here’s what they say:

“Of the 1,426 billionaires on our list, not one–not even the vainglorious Donald Trump–goes to greater measure to try to affect his or her ranking.”

This distaining Forbes article may show up Alwaleed as a man whose pride is his wealth. But it also raises questions over his fellow Saudi’s obsession with money.

The article goes on to list Alwaleed’s 420 room palace (apparently filled with portraits of himself), 747 private aircraft with a throne, private “farm and resort” with artificial lakes and a zoo. Yet all of these (bar perhaps the zoo) are not uncommon displays of wealth in the Kingdom, which, also according to Forbes, has the second most billionaires in the Middle East after Israel.

Ironically, this accumulation and ostentation goes against the wishes of Saudi Arabia’s founder, and Alwaleed’s grandfather, Ibn Saud. According to his English adviser, St John Philby, Ibn Saud was frequently frustrated by many of the Princes’ displays of wealth.

As for Alawaleed’s true wealth: Forbes puts his worth (apparently wrongly) at $20 million; Bloomberg, who he endorses, says he is worth $28; Arabian Business takes the middle ground at $25.9 and WealthInsight, a global wealth consultancy says that Alwaleed owns $22.6.

Look at all my money. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.