Gavin Williamson: Full explanation into Jamal Khashoggi death is very important

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said it is “very important” there is a full explanation into the death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate.

It has been claimed on Saudi state television that the Washington Post columnist died after a fight broke out, but the explanation has been met with widespread scepticism.

US president Donald Trump said he thought Saudi Arabia’s explanation was credible, but that what happened was “unacceptable”.

Asked by the Press Association if he agreed with Mr Trump on the credibility point, Mr Williamson said the UK was looking very closely at the information that had been released and was “obviously talking with allies”.

“It is very important that there is a full explanation that is offered, and that is something I am sure the Foreign Office is looking at as we speak,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s key ally in the region and a significant trading partner – with Britain also rolling out the red carpet for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

During his state visit he was granted rare access to a briefing on foreign policy issues by national security officials alongside his meetings with the Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May.

Pressed on whether he thought Britain was at risk of hypocrisy if the Government failed to hold Saudi Arabia to the same standards demanded of Russia following the Salisbury attack, Mr Williamson said: “Wherever there is an injustice done there has to be action that is undertaken and there has to be a proper and formal investigation.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is considering the “next steps” in Britain’s response to the case, officials said.

Mr Hunt has previously warned there would be “consequences” for the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia if it was found the journalist was murdered.

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said he thought the Government should suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Mr Gardiner acknowledged there were a “lot of jobs” in the UK linked to the defence trade but said “this is about who we are as a country”.

Asked if he agreed that UK arms sales to the kingdom should be suspended, Mr Williamson said: “We are very fortunate in Great Britain that we have the very highest standards of any western nation in terms of defence exports, and it is always something that is constantly kept under review.

“But we have to look at where the information has come in terms of this investigation, and I know that is what the Foreign Office is currently doing.”

A number of Saudi nationals have been arrested and deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, a senior aide to the Crown Prince, have been dismissed, state TV reported.

Turkish government sources have alleged that Mr Khashoggi, a critic of the prince and the Saudi government, was tortured and murdered by a hit squad flown in from Riyadh.

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

The Saudis first dismissed the claims as baseless, without providing an explanation as to how he disappeared after entering the consulate on October 2.

Members of the suspected hit squad reportedly came to Britain during the prince’s state visit.

At least three of the suspects – First Lieutenant Dhaar Ghalib Dhaar Al-Harbi, Sergeant Major Walid Abdullah Al-Shihri and Abdul Aziz Muhammad Musa Al-Hawsawi – were part of his entourage, the news site Middle East Eye reported.

Another suspect, Major General Mahir Abdul Aziz Muhammad Mutrib, was seen emerging from a car in Downing Street during the visit, according to the Daily Mail.