Oil & Rights: Truss policies follow familiar model.
Although the UK has been on a political rollercoaster the past few years, is it really that unusual? If it’s not Brexit, it’s Covid. If it’s not Afghanistan, it’s Ukraine. There always has and always will be ‘something’ going on. The media depends on it and if it’s not there, it will be manufactured.
The former foreign secretary has settled into her new role as prime minister and there is already a push to abandon the European human rights court. Human rights lawyers and groups are seriously concerned over the move, while others have pointed out that Britain has been a leading promoter of human rights and freedoms. One less arbiter is one less appeal venue.
And, can we really say the UK has been a ‘leading promoter’ of human rights? We like to believe it, our diplomats like to preach it, but the proof is in the pudding. Time and time again, politicians and diplomats will confirm their support for the human rights of British citizens detained abroad and trumpet their significant influence over allied nations, but what are the tangible results?
Every now and then we see a momentary hero like Jeremy Hunt swoop in to save a citizen but would Mr Hunt have threatened sanctions if Matthew Hedges had been arrested for something other than espionage? We certainly know Liz Truss has not. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff spoke of her disappointment over Britain’s diplomatic impotence in her case and after helping in more than fifteen thousand cases myself, I don’t recall a single citizen who has returned to praise the UK government’s efforts.
When Truss was pitching for prime minister, she was put on the spot and asked to cite a single Gulf human rights case she had helped in. Truss was unable to do so but ‘assured’ us she had but simply couldn’t remember the names. Tortured grandfather Albert Douglas was one of British citizens Truss had been lobbied to help. Beaten by prison guards resulting in multiple fractures, surely Truss would remember such a horrific case of abuse by our closest Middle Eastern allies, the United Arab Emirates? Felicity Buchan, MP raised the case to Truss on multiple occasions but Truss didn’t remember, and he remains wrongfully detained in prison, suffering from serious injuries. It’s not just Albert of course, but his case highlights serious and concerning human rights violations by authorities against a British citizen.
In his autobiography, Jared Kusner described Trump’s approach to Khashoggi’s execution. They had no hard evidence that MBS was directly involved and overall, he saw MBS updating laws that would improve women’s rights and liberties in Saudi so they look at the ‘overall picture’ but the truth is that Gulf nations are a strategic necessity for the West.
I will not say that we are turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in the Middle East because of our increased desperation for energy cooperation; that would be to say this attitude is new. The behaviour is exactly the same post Russia-Ukraine as it was when I conversed with our Middle Eastern consular representative over a decade ago. The only thing that’s changed is the PR spin and Russia is the new excuse. The British government should not be so cavalier to think they get a ‘free pass’ on human rights issues because the public want gas. They are not mutually exclusive.
Britain does not do well looking desperate. When a country won’t stand up for their citizens, even where there is police brutality involved, they are going to lose in negotiations. How can countries like Qatar, Saudi or the UAE take the UK seriously when they appear too frightened to stand up for their citizens? This lack of courage will reflect in all the deals we do across the board.
There is a new prime minister with an opportunity to save British lives, a new but experienced foreign minister, James Cleverly and it is time they are called on to act in the best interests of Brits. Albert Douglas, Billy Hood, Ryan Cornelius. These are just some of the names Cleverly should remember in case he is questioned like Truss. Beyond remembering a name, Cleverly would be a heroic, unique and memorable foreign minister if he brought those unjustly detained abroad, tortured and beaten, safely home.