Backbench MP hits out at fellow Tories over withdrawal of Saudi Arabia prisons deal, calls decision 'disgraceful'

Daniel Kawczynski has repeatedly defended Britain's business interests with Saudi Arabia

Adam Withnall
Tuesday 13 October 2015 17:18 BST
Stewart Jackson called a disgrace

A backbench Tory MP has come under fire after he appeared to describe the decision to withdraw Britain’s controversial bid for a Saudi prisons contract as “disgraceful”.

Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, announced the government had scrapped the proposal for a £5.9 million training arrangement with the Gulf state amid concerns over the flogging of a 74-year-old British grandfather.

Saudi police take turns caning a man convicted under sharia law

The decision to withdraw the bid has been hailed as a victory for human rights campaigners and for the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who raised the issue in his keynote Labour conference address last month.

But it clearly angered Daniel Kawczynski, the MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham, who heckled throughout today’s Commons debate on the issue.

Mr Kawczynski is chairman of the All-Party Group for Saudi Arabia, and defended British arms deals with the kingdom in a notoriously foul-tempered appearance on BBC’s Newsnight programme last month.

His register of interests includes a donation of £5,292 from the Saudi foreign ministry in early 2014, paid to cover the cost of flights and accommodation during a visit by the All-Party Group in February 2014.

In May 2014, he spoke at a conference for Euromoney on UK investment in Saudi Arabia. He said he always “tried to explain to my colleagues in Parliament the strategic importance of [Saudi Arabia] to the West and to the United Kingdom”.

Mr Kawczynski has since said he is considering suing the editor of Newsnight, Ian Katz, for tweeting about the Saudi donation. He told The Independent on Sunday: “What [Mr Katz] is deliberately suggesting is because I’ve accepted hospitality from Saudi Arabia, I’ve somehow been in their pockets, spouting what they want me to spout.”

In the Commons today, the MP was openly critical of fellow Tories who praised the withdrawal of the prisons offer.

And he indicated support for the former Conservative minister Sir Alan Duncan, who said Mr Gove appeared to have been guided by his “caustic” view of Saudi Arabia.

Sir Alan said: “Deny it though we might, there are many who are left with the impression that this decision has been guided more by your rather caustic personal view of Saudi Arabia than it has really been by any legitimate concerns of your department's policy on justice.

"Can you not accept that in fact when we look at a country whose judicial system we do not in many respects approve of, engagement is far better than disengagement and that disengagement may be a comfortable, moral position but it leads to no progress whatsoever.”

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