The Government was accused last night of bowing to demands from the Saudis, the US government and British arms companies after it ordered a leading Saudi Arabian dissident, Mohammed Masari, to leave the country.
Mr Masari, head of a group known as the Committee for Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), which attacks the Saudi royal family's alleged corruption, has been a running sore in Anglo-Saudi relations for months. He says he was imprisoned and tortured in Saudi Arabia before coming to Britain in April 1994.
A Home Office spokesman said Mr Masari was offered a safe home in the Caribbean island of Dominica. "He has been told by the Home Office that his request to stay here has been refused without substantive consideration on the grounds that there is a safe country to which he can be sent," the spokesman said. In essence, the spokesman said, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, had refused the application without going into the details of the case. "I'm not aware that it is a terribly common occurrence," he confirmed.
There were reports last month that the Saudi government had said it would enter no new contracts with British companies unless London curbed the activities of Mr Masari. Sectors of British industry regard Saudi Arabia as a key market. In 1994 Saudi Arabia bought pounds 1.5bn worth of British goods. The al-Yamamah arms deal with the Saudis produced some pounds 20bn in revenues for British arms companies and is expected to see exports of weapons over the next 20 years.
The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said during a trip to Riyadh that Britain had "no time for those making mischief". He had been tackled on the Masari issue by his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal. Rights campaigners in Britain condemned the Home Office decision, describing Mr Rifkind's implied criticism of Mr Masari as "highly improper".
George Galloway, Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead, wrote to Mr Howard saying his decision to deport Mr Masari was "a sordid act of obeisance to the arms dealers in Britain and the dictators of Riyadh".
Lord Avebury, chairman of the Parliamentary human rights group and Liberal Democrat peer, said the decision breached Britain's obligations under the UN human rights convention.