Tories charged with appeasing Saudi rulers

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The Independent Online

The decision to deport Mohammed al-Masari provoked angry reaction from civil rights groups and Labour politicians. However, some Tory MPs and City sources were quick to defend the Government's move as protecting British interests.

The Labour MP George Galloway has written to the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, describing the deportation as a "sordid act of obeisance to the arms dealers in Britain and the dictators in Riyadh".

Doug Henderson, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said he had written to Ann Widdecombe, the Home Office minister, "to seek assurances ... that proper procedures have been followed and that Mr Masari has received the same consideration as any other person applying for asylum in this country.

"In addition, I have also asked why Dominica has offered asylum and what the ... terms of the arrangement are.''

The leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, Dr Kalim Siddiqui, said the decision to deport Mr Masari was a blatant Machiavellian move by the Government to appease the princes of Saudi Arabia.

He added: "I hope Mr Masari's appeal succeeds. But if he is eventually deported, the Muslim community in Britain will ensure that the work of the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights continues. The toppling of the Saudi regime is a cause supported by many Muslims in Britain and throughout the world."

But Sir Ivan Lawrence, Tory chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, defended the decision. "We have to strike a balance. Most people would say that if foreigners want to come to this country they are very welcome, but they can't use this country as a base for causing a great deal of ill-feeling to friends," he said.

"We have not sent him back to Saudi Arabia, where he might be banged up or worse, and if he doesn't want to stay in Dominica, that is fine. There are plenty of other countries that he might, as a fundamentalist, wish to go to. We cannot allow our friends to be insulted by somebody who has come here simply to make mischief."

A City expert said the deportation order was good news for GEC and British Aerospace, which have been negotiating various major equipment sales to the Middle East. "Clearly it will be seen as very important news for these important contracts," he said.

Mr Masari's actions prompted warnings as recently as November that millions of pounds in arms contracts and other exports were at potential risk from his campaigns.

Claude Moraes, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said it was an extraordinary case. "I believe Ann Widdecombe has set the most dangerous legal and political precedent in the area of asylum. In our view, she has gone further than any other immigration minister in clearly stating that we would make an asylum decision on the basis of our trade and arms interests.''