Vince Cable: A dubious ally who devalues our government


Gordon Brown has abandoned a lifetime's principled opposition to formal dress and will wear a white tie at the Royal Banquet for the state visit of the king of Saudi Arabia. I have no problems with dressing up for royalty. But I do object to the Saudi state visit and have therefore declined an invitation to attend.

The British government should not have offered the accolade of a state visit to the head of a regime which is authoritarian and deeply corrupt. Our own Foreign Office has described Saudi Arabia, without hyperbole, as follows: "Women are subject to discrimination. Prisoners suffer maltreatment and torture. Capital punishment is imposed without adequate safeguards and often executed in a cruel way and in public. Amputations are imposed as corporal punishment ... We also have concerns about freedom of expression, assembly and religion." British expatriates have been tortured to extract false confessions of involvement in terrorism.

Why, then, should the Government involve the Queen in a public display of friendship and respect for the head of the House of Saud? It will argue that Saudi Arabia is a key strategic ally in the "war on terror" and an important trading partner, using its oil revenue to buy British goods, especially arms.

Saudi Arabia has intelligence to share and help us combat terrorism. Genuine two-way co-operation is, of course, welcome. But earlier this year, Parliament was told by Tony Blair that unless the British government dropped a criminal investigation into alleged corruption involving BAE systems and leading Saudi princes, the Saudis would cease co-operation. It is a dubious ally which tries to blackmail us over terrorism to save their royal blushes.

Trade, too, is beneficial but not at any price and not if it is lubricated by bribery and government subsidy. The massive Al Yamamah arms contract, spanning two decades, has left a deep stain on British public life. Conservative and Labour governments have been complicit in large-scale corruption. Our legal system has been compromised by a refusal, under Saudi pressure, to pursue fraud investigations. Parliament has been compromised by the suppression of a Public Accounts Committee inquiry, which could embarrass the Saudis – the only such report thus suppressed in the history of parliament.

Often Britain needs to have a dialogue with representatives of unpleasant regimes. A pragmatic case could be made for dialogue and economic relations with the Iran of President Ahmadinejad or the Libya of Colonel Gaddafi. But such leaders should not be paraded in a coach through the streets of London to Buckingham Palace.

A cynic would argue that the institution of the British state visit has been hopelessly devalued. Past invitations to such appalling characters as President Mobutu of Congo and President Ceausescu of Romania reduced its value. I had hoped that Gordon Brown's government would have higher standards. It seems not.

Vince Cable is acting leader of the Liberal Democrats

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul falls: Talk of Iraq retaking the town, held by IS since June, is unconvincing  

Isis on the run? The US portrayal is very far from the truth

Patrick Cockburn
Harvey Proctor's home was raided by the Met under a warrant investigating historical child sexual abuse  

Harvey Proctor: A gay sex ring in Westminster? I don't believe it

Harvey Proctor
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk