King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz dead: MPs criticise decision to fly flags at half-mast at Government buildings for Saudi monarch

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives labelled the decision "stupid"

Kashmira Gander
Friday 23 January 2015 18:10 GMT
The flag at the Houses of Parliament, London, flies at half mast as a mark of respect for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whose death was announced last night.
The flag at the Houses of Parliament, London, flies at half mast as a mark of respect for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whose death was announced last night.

The decision to mark the death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah by flying flags at half-mast in Whitehall has been criticised by MPs unsettled by the monarch’s shocking human rights record.

Iconic buildings including Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, as well as Whitehall departments and Downing Street were among buildings to fly Union Flags at half-mast to honour King Abdullah, whose death was announced last night.

A notice issued on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport website explaining the decision said: “It is with great regret that we learn of the death of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, King of Saudi Arabia.

"It is requested that all flags be half-masted from 8am today until 8pm this evening.

"Any other UK national flags flown alongside the Union Flag when it is at half-mast should also be at half-mast. If a flag of a foreign nation is normally flown on the same stand as the Union Flag, it should be removed.

"Local authorities are not bound by this request but may wish to follow it for guidance. Devolved administrations are responsible for issuing instructions for the flying of the Union Flag on buildings in their estate and others as necessary."

Officials said the move was a matter of protocol and that the formal request had been made by the Palace.

But in the wake of the public beheading of a woman and the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi in past weeks, MPs and other high profile figures expressed their outrage that the King was being honoured in this way.

Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson said it was a "stupid act on its own and a stupid precedent to set". But the mark of respect was not adopted north of the border, as flying flags at half-mast for foreign heads of government or state is not routine, according to a Scottish Government spokesman.

Buckingham Palace, where the flag is flying at half mast as a mark of respect for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. (PA)

The issue also split opinion between two of Ukip's key figures.

A spokesman for leader Nigel Farage said it showed "respect for an ally in the war against terror" and that the issue of human rights should be taken up with the new king.

Asked if Mr Farage was comfortable with the decision, his spokesman said: "Lowering a flag is an issue of diplomatic protocol, respect for an ally in the war on terror.

"We should forcefully take up the issue of human rights with the new not the dead king."

But MP Douglas Carswell said that officials had showed “immoral” values far from those of the British public, and retweeted many posts sharing a similar sentiment.

Referring to the civil service as Sir Humphrey - the mandarin from television series Yes Minister - he said: “On the day that Sir Humphrey lowers the Union Jack in Whitehall to mark the passing of the Saudi monarch, I wonder how many public executions there are going to be in Saudi Arabia?

"Why are we doing this? I think Sir Humphrey has seriously blundered. Sir Humphrey's values need to be aligned more closely to people in this country rather than being quite so immoral. Saudi Arabia is a country that doesn't let women drive and publicly executes people."

Louise Mensch, former Conservative MP for Corby, also expressed her fury over the flag situation, as well as the Government’s response to King Abdullah’s death in general on Twitter. She went so far as replying “F**K You” to a tweet that quoted the Prime Minister's sorrow at the king's death.

Additional reporting by PA

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