Government 'bowing and scraping' to Saudi crown prince, says Labour

The British Government is "bowing and scraping" to Saudi Arabia's crown prince, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has claimed at the start of his three day UK visit.

Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable argued there would be "widespread concern across parties at the fact that the dictatorial head of a medieval theocratic regime is being given the red carpet equivalent of a state visit".

Mohammed bin Salman was received by the Queen at Buckingham Palace at the start of a trip that is set to be dominated by protests over his country's role in the bloody civil war in Yemen.

The Queen greets Mohammed bin Salman during a private audience at Buckingham Palace (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
The Queen greets Mohammed bin Salman during a private audience at Buckingham Palace (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Asking a Commons urgent question on the UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia, Sir Vince called on the Government to explain why the safeguards on the use of British weapons which were introduced at the end of the coalition "are apparently no longer being applied".

He asked if the Foreign Secretary would be demanding the ending of bombing of civilian targets in the Yemen civil war "which Prince Mohammed initiated".

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Ms Thornberry claimed there was a "shameful silence" from the Government on the issue.

She said: "We must tell them that as long as they continue the indiscriminate bombing of residential areas, of farms, of markets in Yemen, as long as they continue to restrict the flow of food, medical supplies and fuels to a population suffering mass epidemics of malnutrition and cholera, then they should not expect our support in that war and their crown prince does not deserve to have the red carpet rolled out for him here in Britain."

She added: "The UK Government pretends to care about human rights and war crimes, but when it comes to Saudi Arabia and Yemen there is nothing but a shameful silence.

"And we all know, because all they ultimately care about is how to plug the hole in trade and growth that is coming because of their plans on Brexit."

Responding Middle East minister Alistair Burt asked how the "personal comments" made would "constitute a decent start to such a relationship".

There was not indiscriminate bombing of civilians as had been alleged, he said, adding that "there's been no silence from the UK".

Mr Burt said there was not a blockade or restriction of goods coming in and the UK had been working hard for a diplomatic solution.

He said: "She is not the sole holder of conscience in this place as we deal with the difficulties of trying to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, that is what we are seeking to do and we will bend all our efforts to that."

The UK he said had a "close and wide-ranging" relationship with Saudi Arabia which was the UK's third fastest growing market for exports. The UK fully supports the Crown Prince's social and economic reform programme Vision 2030, he added.

Mr Burt said it was not correct to refer to the war in Yemen being initiated by Saudi Arabia.

On weapons sales, he said: "These are as strict as any in the world....we keep under strict check to ensure that international humanitarian law is abided by."

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