Why Theresa May must cancel the Saudi Prince's visit

Theresa May is greeted by the Governor of Riyadh Province, Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, on a visit to Saudi Arabia last November. Andrew Smith believes the new Saudi Crown Prince should not be welcomed by the Prime Minister in London

Theresa May is greeted by the Governor of Riyadh Province, Faisal bin Bandar Al Saud, on a visit to Saudi Arabia last November. Andrew Smith believes the new Saudi Crown Prince should not be welcomed by the Prime Minister in London

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fresh from the ongoing fiasco surrounding the now cancelled Donald Trump visit, Theresa May is preparing to roll out the red carpet and welcome another particularly controversial world leader to London.

Last December it was announced that she would be hosting the recently appointed Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, who, at the age of 32, is the second most senior member of the Saudi Royal Family.

Born into a life of privilege, the Crown Prince has navigated the geopolitical game of thrones that is the Saudi Arabian Royal Family, and climbed the greasy pole to become the next ruler of the Saudi Kingdom.

The visit, which is expected in the weeks ahead, will be a major propaganda victory for a soon-to-be leader who has already invested a great deal of his time and efforts into trying to improve the regime’s appalling reputation on the world stage.

Despite some much-touted and relatively minor reforms, the Saudi dictatorship is still one of the most repressive in the world. It does not observe the most basic human rights of Saudi people, and has a long and shameful record of punishing opponents and journalists. In 2017 alone it executed over 100 people.

In his dual role, which also comprises the position of defence minister of Saudi Arabia, the Crown Prince has overseen the terrible bombardment and destruction of Yemen. For almost three years now, Saudi forces have inflicted a brutal bombing campaign on the country.

UK weapons have played a central role in that crisis. Right from the start, UK-made fighter jets have been flying over Yemen dropping UK-made bombs from the sky. Thousands of civilians have been killed in the bombing, with many more dying as a result of the dire humanitarian catastrophe it has produced.

According to Oxfam, Yemen is suffering from the worst cholera outbreak in history, with over one million people affected. The results have been so devastating that, despite the billions of pounds worth of arms sales that the UK Government has signed-off on, one of its own ministers, Boris Johnson, has called Yemen's plight “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

There have been rumours that the Crown Prince ‘wants out’ of the war in Yemen, but the bombing has only intensified over recent months. In any case, there is no reason to believe that his recent promotion will cause the Crown Prince to reconsider a strategy that has led to so much suffering: If anything it should be regarded as a fully-throated statement of support for the awful war that he has shaped.

It is to this appalling backdrop that Theresa May has pulled out all stops to impress the new Crown Prince, visiting him last November and offering him the photo-opportunities and prestige that go with a visit to Downing Street.

Theresa May and her predecessors have always argued that sitting down with regimes and selling them weapons is a good way to influence them, but there is no evidence of any government in world history improving its human rights record in order to buy UK weapons.

If anything the exact opposite is the case. Prior to his resignation last year, the former defence minister, Michael Fallon, made the government’s position perfectly clear when he urged MPs stop publicly criticising the Saudi government in case it undermined his attempts to maximise arms sales.

If the visit goes ahead, the message it will send to the Crown Prince is one of total support. However, the message it will send to those being abused and tortured by his regime, and to those being bombed in Yemen, is a very different one. It will tell them that their human rights don’t matter. It will tell them that their lives are less important than arms company profits.

Poll after poll has shown that the overwhelming majority of the UK public opposes May's uncritical political and military support for the regime. If the cancellation of the Trump visit tells us anything, it’s that campaigning can work. That is why a coalition of human rights organisations has written to May, urging her to cancel the visit.

Over the weeks ahead we will be doing all we can to mobilise as many people as possible against his visit. We want to ensure that the message is sent loudly and clearly: the invitation must be cancelled and the arms sales must stop.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). CAAT is leading a coalition of rights groups calling on Theresa May to cancel the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince.

You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.