PICK YOUR FRIENDS WISELY

. . . friends . . .

– Jeremy Corbyn, referring to representatives from Hamas and Hezbollah.

Context: a meeting called by Corbyn to advance the prospects for Middle East peace through dialogue with often excluded but nevertheless politically influential actors. Corbyn has expressed regret for the slip, explaining it as an effort to use ‘inclusive language’ to assist the dialogue process (presumably his critics would have preferred him to introduce the meeting. ‘I would like to welcome our enemies…’).

Result: months of relentless criticism; accusations of antisemitism, pro-terrorism, pro-Islamism; demands to apologise, including from the then-Prime Minister on the floor of the House of Commons; wall-to-wall condemnation from mainstream Jewish groups; multiple inquiries; protracted outrage from Labour MPs.


Does it mean that she [Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry] wants to withdraw the advice given by skilled British employees that helps our Saudi friends? . . . [T]he United Kingdom has enjoyed a very long and mutually beneficial relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There have been occasional differences between us, but those are to be found in any relationship. . . . The Saudis should be commended on what they are doing, not criticised.

– Sir Gerald Howarth MP (Con)

Saudi Arabia has been a key strategic and defence partner of the UK for decades, which is of immense value to this country. . .

– Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson MP (Con)

We should be thinking about what support to give our ally in picking up its responsibility for the delivery of regional security . . . We have had a long-term strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, and I invite hon. Members to examine what is happening there. They should look at Vision 2030. They should look at the people who are now in charge. Anyone who has listened to the Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir—he has been to the House twice recently to give a presentation to MPs—will have seen how impressive a Foreign Minister he is. The deputy crown prince who is now leading economic reform in Saudi Arabia has put extremely impressive technocrats in charge of that process. It is all part of a wider modernisation process, not just economically but socially. . . .  The truth is that the current leadership in Saudi Arabia is probably taking the country is a general direction that we can all approve of

– Crispin Blunt MP (Con), chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee

Time and time again, Saudi Arabia has proved a crucial ally of the United Kingdom.

– Nadhim Zahawi MP (Con)

[To] withdraw our support from Saudi Arabia is to remove ourselves from being a critical friend and ally of a regime that we want to reform and that is going through a process of change which will only improve its governance and its prestige in the world. . . . [T]he alternative to a royal family governing Saudi Arabia is not liberal democracy, but extremist Islamism [er…]

– Mark Hendrick MP (Lab/Co-op)

We must also not forget that this debate is more important than the sale of weapons, although jobs understandably depend on them. It is a message to our friends and allies

– Robert Jenrick MP (Con)

etc.

Context: A parliamentary debate about whether to support an independent investigation into Saudi war crimes in Yemen, and whether to suspend UK support for the Saudi-led coalition in light of evidence of prima facie violations of international law. Saudi Arabia ranks among the most repressive regimes on the planet; it is also implicated in the diffusion of antisemitic materials and ideology.

Response: …pending.

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