This is for some reason is my most looked-at post ever. I think it’s a poor one but for the past month or so a lot of people have been searching for ‘Eurofighter Typhoon’.
Here’s some background to the Al-Yamamah deal. Careers were made when Margaret Thatcher negotiated with Prince Bandar ,son of the Saudi Defence minister, to clinch a deal in a new order of magnitude – £43m over the last 20 years. The maintenance and upgrade lock-in that the Al-Yamamah deal represented for Britain is the reason so many British citizens live and work in Saudi.
There is a lot of background and updates about BAE at The Guardian, including pictures, profiles, investigation timeline and High Court judgements. What that doesn’t really explore is the relationship between BAE and the British Government. BAE threatened to sell itself off to a foreign buyer when the government went looking for a better deal on ammunition, for example. The government also underwrites arms exports through Export Credit Guarantees (which exist mainly for this purpose).
Am I thick, right? I understand that Heseltine, Thatcher and Blair may have parted with tax-payers’ money on behalf of Great Britain Plc. But what’s the precise relationship to the public purse of the BAE £60m slushfund? I suppose that’s what the investigation was supposed to discover.
The allegation that public money is caught up in this is a different matter. I don’t think that anti-corruption law is something for Attorney Generals to overrule when it’s convenient. Then again from what I can gather in my cursory poke around the Web we don’t, even now, have proper law on foreign bribery – hence this strange groping in the Judicial Review summary:
“So bleak a picture of the impotence of the law invites at least dismay, if not outrage. The danger of so heated a reaction is that it generates steam; this obscures the search for legal principle. The challenge, triggered by this application, is to identify a legal principle which may be deployed in defence of so blatant a threat. However abject the surrender to that threat, if there is no identifiable legal principle by which the threat may be resisted, then the court must itself acquiesce in the capitulation.”
At the same time, it’s quite possible that the Attorney General wasn’t primarily motivated by convenience – national security trumps many things and I’m not as confident as some commentators are that the government is invoking national security as a ruse. Waheed Ali, Sadeer Saleem, and Mohammed Shakil are currently on trial for helping the 7/7 bombers – the role of Saudi in preventing or apprehending terrorists like is shrouded in mystery. But I’m not sure about the relationship between Saudi assistance and the civil rights activists in Whitehall who are fighting tooth and nail to keep MI5’s mitts off all that lovely data banking up on Oyster’s servers. I do think that many of the campaigners for a reopening of the investigation have an alterior anti-imperialist agenda and want to kill Britain’s arms trade (unilateral disarmament – bunch o’ nutters). At the same time, BAE was lobbying for the investigation to be closed in order to protect its deal. Some correspondents to the 6 o’ clock news were saying we had to pay the Saudis to take inferior weapons, which he said they only use for training, off our hands (and I am quite curious to find out why our lethal products aren’t leaping off the shelf for themselves). Shirley Williams pointed out on Any Questions that Saudi threats to withdraw assistance in counter-terrorism operations had not deterred the USA, which was at greater risk, from pushing on with its Justice Department’s investigation. But then, BAE is a rival for the US share of the arms market so maybe that doesn’t signify.
As usual I’m stumped. Happily, I’m not expected to come to any decision on this, so with gay abandon I’ll add my 2p. Most people smell a huge corruption, possibly involving public money secretly funnelled into intermediaries’ bank accounts for the principal benefit of a private company. Consequently the Serious Fraud Office, whose head Robert Wardle nearly had access to the relevant bank accounts when its investigation was abruptly shut down, and/or the OECD (the world’s anti-corruption watchdog – ‘for a better world economy’ for pete’s sake, not for its own amusement) anti-bribery working group should be permitted to resume the investigations, as implied (though not suggested) by the Judicial Review. And I think ministers should drop the part of the draft constitutional renewal bill that would make it possible for the Attorney General to halt, with immunity from legal challenge, a prosecution like the BAE one, although there seemed to be the general feeling on Any Questions that it was important, in the interest of national security, for the AG to be able to cancel investigations which genuinely weren’t in the public interest (easy to say, isn’t it). And there should be an inquiry into the circumstances in which the BAE probe was unlawfully halted in the first place.
I might (in all my mighty influence) be advocating a casual attitude to diplomatic relations with Saudi. But I’m probably as much at risk from terror as anybody, living in London and spending at least 3 hours a day on public transport and central London thoroughfares, but I’m not prepared to embrace corruption for a Saudi prince’s pledge of assistance. Not when his family is giving with one hand and taking with the other, filling our mosques with extremist anti-democratic literature, clearly implicated in the cause of global jihad, and behaving tyrannically towards the British government.
If I get blown up next year after Saudi has turned its back on us, please tell everybody how brave I was in the cause of justice. Trouble is, the idea of Matt getting blown up makes an appeaser of me.