The British government pursued arms deals with Saudi Arabia in the weeks after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, even as it publicly condemned the murder.
Khashoggi was killed by Saudi officials inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, prompting global condemnation and calls for a re-evaluation of ties with the Kingdom.
As the UK government called for answers over the dissident’s death, British trade officials responsible for arms sales continued to hold high-level meetings with their Saudi counterparts.
A delegation from the Defence and Security Organisation – an office within the Department for International Trade that promotes arms exports for UK companies – travelled to Riyadh on 14 and 22 October, according to a Freedom of Information request obtained by the Mirror newspaper.
The latter of those meetings came on the same day as the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, condemned Khashoggi’s killing “in the strongest possible terms” in a speech to parliament.
“Whilst we will be thoughtful and considered in our response, I have also been clear that if the appalling stories we are reading turn out to be true, they are fundamentally incompatible with our values and we will act accordingly,” Mr Hunt said on October 22.
The foreign secretary made a point of announcing the cancellation of a planned visit to Riyadh by the trade secretary, Liam Fox. However, he did not disclose that meetings over arms sales were still taking place.
Even before the murder of Khashoggi, the UK government had been under pressure to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia over alleged war crimes and rising civilian casualties in Yemen.
Riyadh intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to reinstate the internationally recognised government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was ousted by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The fighting has killed at least 10,000 civilians – most of whom were victims of airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition – and left nearly 16 million people on the brink of famine.
The coalition has admitted causing civilian casualties, but attributes the deaths to “unintentional mistakes”, and says it is committed to upholding international law. The Houthis have also targeted civilians throughout the conflict, according to the UN.
Since the war began, the UK has licensed £4.7 billion worth of weapons to Saudi forces, making it by far the largest buyer of UK arms. Khashoggi’s killing brought new pressure on the British government to reassess its ties to Saudi Arabia, after Germany and Norway halted all future arms sales to Riyadh.
“Jeremy Hunt was quick to join the condemnations of the killing, but he has done nothing to stop the arms sales. How many more atrocities and abuses would it take for him to act?” said Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade.
“It has used these weapons to devastating effect in Yemen, where the Saudi-led coalition have inflicted the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was yet another appalling crime by the Saudi authorities.”
Even as more evidence has emerged pointing to the culpability of the Saudi government in Khashoggi’s killing, the UK appears to have made no substantial change to its relationship.
British prime minister Theresa May held face-to-face talks last month with Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader whose close aides carried out the killing and subsequently attempted to cover it up.
The prime minister said she stressed “the importance of a full, transparent and credible investigation into the terrible murder” during her meeting with the Crown Prince at the G20 summit in Argentina. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Ms May of not following through with action.
“Rather than be robust, as she promised, we learned the Prime Minister told the dictator ‘please don’t use the weapons we are selling you in the war you’re waging’ and asked him nicely to investigate the murder he allegedly ordered,” Mr Corbyn said last month.
“Leaders should not just offer warm words against human rights atrocities but back up their words with action,” he added.
Mr Hunt has defended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing Britain’s “important strategic partnership” with the country “which has saved lives on the streets of Britain.”
The Saudi meetings are not the first time that Britain has been criticised for putting trade before human rights concerns. British academic Matthew Hedges was detained for months in the United Arab Emirates and accused of spying on behalf of the UK.
During the five months Mr Hedges was held in solitary confinement, Mr Hunt called the arrest “appalling” and criticised the UAE publicly. Behind the scenes, however, high-level trade meetings continued apace. Liam Fox, the trade secretary, Baroness Rona Fairhead, UK Minister of State for Trade and Export Promotion and Alistair Burt, Britain’s Minister for the Middle East, all met with UAE officials to drum up trade between the two countries.
Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK’s foreign affairs expert, told The Independent in November that the UK has “long given the impression that security and trade interests trump human rights concerns in the UAE.”
“With Matthew Hedges’ case, it almost seems to have come as a surprise to the government that the UAE actually locks up people after deeply unfair trials,” she said.
The Freedom of Information request by the Mirror found that the 14 October talks focused on “Riyadh Operations Centre requirements,” which is likely a reference to the operations centre where Saudi strikes against Yemen are coordinated.
Commenting on the meetings with Saudi officials, a government spokesperson told The Independent: “The government takes its export responsibilities very seriously, operating one of the most robust export control regimes in the world. Risks around human rights abuses are a key part of any licensing assessment.
“Visits by officials from the UK will continue to play a role in maintaining our relationship with Saudi Arabia including in how we work together to tackle regional threats, and support mutual national security and prosperity interests.”
Theresa May this week asked Britain’s defence secretary to justify the UK’s role as a “tier one” military power, causing dismay in the Ministry of Defence.
Underlying the statement is a realisation that the UK can no longer economically compete with top powers, defence experts told Business Insider.
“It’s a reflection of our economic status – times are tough,” said Tim Ripley, a defence analyst, adding: “It’s all about money… if you don’t have money you can’t spend it.”
The Prime Minister questioned defence secretary Gavin Williamson on whether money for the military should be reallocated to areas like cyber, and if Britain needed to maintain a Navy, Army, Air Force and nuclear deterrent all at once.
Ripley called it a retreat from “grand ambitions.”
“No matter how we dress it up, this newfangled cyber stuff is just an excuse for running away from funding hard power,” Ripley said.
“If you don’t pony up the money and the hard power you don’t get a seat at the top table. No matter how to flash your cyber warfare is, people, take notice of ships, tanks and planes.”
There is a strong correlation between military power and economic status. The major powers including the US, China and Russia all demonstrate their strength through military posturing, and countries that don’t have enough resources for defence often pool with others.
Dr Jan Honig, a senior lecturer in war studies at King’s College London, said that shared defence can be disrupted in times of nationalism, and called it “highly ironic” that Brexit could mean the UK can longer fund its military.
“You can’t really do it by yourself even if you spent a lot more on defence which is not going to happen in this country with this measly economic growth and the uncertainty about international trade details,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s comments, which were first reported by the Financial Times, come in the context of her recent pledge of a fresh £20 billion for the National Health Service (NHS) and debate about where the money will come from.
Governments need to ensure that their policies have support from the people, and pouring money into the military is harder to sell then spending on the NHS and social welfare which are immediate issues, said Honig, adding that populations are now also more switched on to the horrors of war.
But Julian Lewis, Chair of the UK’s defence committee told Business Insider that he’s now concerned about whether May will be able to properly fund the military after the NHS pledge.
“I am not won over … by this jargon of calling it a ‘tier one’ military power… What I’m much more concerned about is whether Theresa May will be able to give the defence the money it needs,” he said, citing a “whole” of over £4.9 billion in the defence budget.
May’s comments will not lead to definitive action to pare down the military but are a clear sign of the direction of travel said, Ripley. (Business Insider)
The first modern Briton had “dark to black” skin, groundbreaking new analysis of his 10,000-year-old remains has revealed.
Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset.
But an unprecedented examination of his DNA, along with a facial reconstruction of the fossil, shows the young man would have had a darker complexion than previously thought, along with blue eyes and dark, curly hair.
Previous reconstructions of Cheddar Man, which were not based on DNA data, depicted him with a lighter skin tone.
Yet research by evolution and DNA specialists at the Natural History Museum and University College London suggests the pigmentation associated with northern European ancestry is a more recent development.
The research and remodelling process was documented for Channel 4 programme The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man.
Professor Ian Barnes, research leader at the Natural History Museum, said at a screening of the documentary: “For me, it’s not just the skin colour that’s interesting, it’s that combination of features that make him look not like anyone that you’d see today.
“Not just dark skin and blue eyes, because you can get that combination, but also the face shape. So all of this combines together and make him just not the same as people you see around today.”
Researchers Professor Barnes and Dr Selina Brace extracted DNA data from bone powder by drilling a 2mm hole through the skull’s inner ear bone.
They scanned the skull and a 3D model was produced by “paleo artists” Alfons and Adrie Kennis, who make life-like reconstructions of extinct mammals and early humans.
The twins, who have created reconstructions for museums around the world and usually create models of Neanderthals, spent three months working on Cheddar Man.
“It’s really nice to make a more graceful man, not a heavy-browed Neanderthal,” said Alfons. “So we were very excited that it was a guy from after the Ice Age. We were very interested in what kind of human he was.
“With the new DNA information it was really revolutionary. And it allowed us to look more at race, this revealed stuff that we’d never had known before.”
Cheddar Man, thought to have died in his twenties and have had a relatively good diet, lived in Britain when it was almost completely depopulated about 300 generations ago.
Although previous populations had settled in Britain long before his arrival, they were wiped out before him and he marked the start of continuous habitation on the island.
Genetically, he belonged to a group of people known as the “Western Hunter-Gatherers”, Mesolithic-era individuals from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg.
His ancestors migrated to Europe from the Middle East after the Ice Age. Britain has been inhabited ever since and today about 10 per cent of White British people are descended from the group.
Alfons said: “People define themselves by which country they’re from, and they assume that their ancestors were just like them. And then suddenly new research shows that we used to be a totally different people with a different genetic makeup.
“People will be surprised, and maybe it will make immigrants feel a bit more involved in the story. And maybe it gets rid of the idea that you have to look a certain way to be from somewhere. We are all immigrants.”
(The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man airs on Channel 4 on Sunday, 18 February)
“So we should look at our British industry, our designers, all the skills, all the production companies around the country, the shipyards from Devon through to Fife, to the Royal Navy, who have come together to make this happen.
“We should be really proud as a country. This has been a national endeavour. It has just been fantastic – it is really a culmination of all our hard work.”
Set to be the nation’s future flagship, the aircraft carrier can be pressed into action for various tasks such as high intensity war fighting or providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
Britain is reportedly preparing for the possibility of war breaking out with North Korea as concerns rise that another provocative missile test could trigger a military response by the US.
North Korea is being closely watched amid fears it could launch another long-range missile test on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the founding of its ruling party.
Bellicose rhetoric from Donald Trump has heightened tensions in the region in recent months, prompting British officials to draw up military plans for a response to a break out of hostilities, it was reported.
Among the plans disclosed by the Daily Mail is the deployment of the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, before it has undergone flight trials.
“We have plenty of ships to send… the Type-45 destroyers, the Type-23 frigates. Britain’s new aircraft carrier could be pressed into service early if things turn south,” a senior Whitehall source told the newspaper
HMS Queen Elizabeth, which arrived at its home in Portsmouth in August after extensive sea trials, is not due to enter service until 2020.
The possible move to deploy it ahead of schedule drew comparisons with the start of the Falklands War.
“In the Falklands, we had to react to an event and HMS Illustrious was accelerated to respond,” a Navy source told the Mail.
“This was a reaction to protect British territory, however. In this case [North Korea], the UK would be part of a united global coalition. We would see what support we could give.”
The US president hinted on Saturday at taking military action against Kim Jong-un’s regime, saying “only one thing will work” in dealing with the country.
Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid……
The president has previously said the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary to protect itself and its allies from Pyongyang’s nuclear threats.
Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said last week that the UK should increase its military spending in the face of growing threats from states such as North Korea.
Last month, Sir Michael told the BBC that Britain was at risk from Pyongyang’’s long-range nuclear missile programme.
“The US is fully entitled to defend its own territory, to defend its bases and to look after its people, but this involves us, London is closer to North Korea and its missiles than Los Angeles,” he said. (Telegraph)
Boris Johnson spent a week visiting Japan, New Zealand and Australia in the pursuit of post-Brexit trade deals. Instead, the gaffe-prone diplomat ended up riling a far bigger economy: China.
Known back home just as ‘Boris,’ Johnson is a popular figure often tipped as a future prime minister while he serves as foreign minister. He played a key role in changing the tide of public opinion in favour of the U.K. leaving the European Union.
In his official capacity, he’s been charged with charming nations and convincing them of the value of strengthening commercial ties with the U.K. even as it prepares to quit the biggest trading bloc of them all. The problem is that his rhetoric often lands himself in trouble.
In a speech in Sydney on Thursday, Johnson urged all countries bordering the South China Sea “to respect freedom of navigation and international law.” That sounded the alarm back in China, arguably the one economy Britain can ill-afford to peeve given the political sensitivities in play.
Britain “is ready once again to articulate our commitment to international order with money and a military presence,” he said, adding “that is why one of the first missions of our two vast new aircraft carriers will be to sail through the Straits of Malacca.”
While Johnson didn’t point the finger at China directly, his comments were interpreted as an indelicate reference to overlapping territorial claims in the region by countries including China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
China claims most of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, and in recent years it has boosted its military presence, reclaiming thousands of acres of land to build artificial outposts on reefs. The Strait of Malacca is the gateway to the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean from the Indian Ocean.
“There are no longer any British colonies in East Asia and the presence of Britain’s warship in the region is more like an aberration,” China’s Global Times said on Friday in an editorial. “Brexit is weakening Britain’s influence, and it appears that the country needs to do something to assert its sense of identity. If it goes too far, however, it will get itself in trouble.”
While the Global Times isn’t a Chinese government publication, it’s affiliated with the ruling Communist Party and is often used as a mouthpiece for government thinking. The government’s official response was more measured.
“An individual nation that is not in the region insists on making some waves in the South China Sea where it has turned tranquil,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “China is sincere in creating a golden era in China-U.K. relations, but it requires efforts from both sides to improve any bilateral relationships.”
The economics of keeping China happy are compelling. It was the seventh-biggest destination for British exports in 2017, and the second-biggest outside Europe, buying more than 13 billion pounds ($17 billion) worth of goods in 2016, according to U.K. statistics.
It was also the third biggest source of imports, with Britain buying some 36 billion pounds worth of goods. China’s importance was not completely lost on Johnson, though.
“We will be here as a partner and friend, aiming at good relations with all the major countries of this region — not choosing between them,” he said. “Our relationship with China, the engine of global growth, will be crucial now and in the future.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at email@example.com, Linly Lin in London at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at email@example.com, Michael Winfrey (Bloomberg)