Tory MP who declared ‘God save the King of Bahrain’ in speech received £10k in hospitality from regime

‘Lavish trips’ funded by autocracies are ‘seriously damaging to our democracy’, parliamentarians say

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 03 December 2022 07:57 GMT
<p>Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa delivers a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2020 </p>

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa delivers a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2020

A Conservative MP who declared “God save the King of Bahrain” during a speech received at least £10,000 worth of hospitality and travel from the country’s rulers, The Independent has learnt. Bob Stewart, who has also spoken in defence of the regime in parliament, has been paid to travel to the country on multiple occasions, with thousands of pounds spent on him each time.

In a speech in Bahrain last month he told his audience that the country’s leadership had “done a very good job of changing the way it looks after its citizens”. Praising the autocratic government, he said: “I can say this now, as a British [citizen]: God save the King of England, and God save the King of Bahrain!”

Mr Stewart was in the country ahead of its elections, which were internationally condemned as a sham. Since 2011 the Bahrainian government has banned a number of opposition parties, including the largest. It has also tightened restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, according to human rights groups such as Amnesty International.

Mr Stewart has previously intervened in parliament to dispute the question of Bahrain holding political prisoners after other MPs raised the matter.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and himself a political exile from the country, told The Independent he was “devastated” by Mr Stewart’s behaviour.

“As a Bahraini who was rendered stateless as a revenge tactic because I dared to protest the presence of Bahrain’s dictator who was visiting the UK, I cannot return to my country, simply because I took a stand for human rights,” he said.

“I’m devastated to see Bob Stewart going to Bahrain at the expense of the subjugated people of a corrupt dictatorship. Our people would not choose to finance an MP legitimising sham elections when opposition leaders languish behind bars.”

The human rights activist added: “We expect Bob to declare the value of this trip in compliance with parliamentary rules. He has previously been the only MP to praise Bahrain’s corrupt judiciary as it prepared to uphold the death sentences of torture victims; from now on, he must declare his financial interest whenever he speaks in parliament about Bahrain.”

The Independent contacted Bob Stewart for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

The MPs’ register of interests notes that a trip by Mr Stewart in November 2021, worth £5,349 in flights, accommodation and meals, was paid for by Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ministry also paid for another visit in January 2016, the cost of which was recorded at £4,753.

The Conservative MP is also reported to have visited Bahrain in November 2019, but the value of this trip was not declared on the register of interests because parliament was dissolved in the run-up to the election.

His most recent trip, during which the MP made his speech praising the King of Bahrain, took place in November 2022, but has not yet been declared on the register of interests. This is consistent with its rules on declaration.

Mr Stewart’s approach to dealing with the country has also been criticised by fellow parliamentarians. Lord Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer who is vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on democracy and human rights in the Gulf.

“It’s clear that what Bob Stewart should have been shouting is ‘God save death row inmates in Bahrain’ who were tortured by authorities into giving false confessions,” he said. “They are facing imminent execution, pending only the stroke of King Hamad’s pen.

“Mr Stewart is getting paid by the British taxpayer to represent his constituents, so goodness knows why he and other MPs accept lavish trips paid for by such suspect foreign governments, and then speaks the same propaganda these regimes use in the UK parliament. This is seriously damaging for our democracy.”

Zarah Sultana, the Labour MP for Coventry South, told The Independent that there should be “stronger regulation” of MPs taking gifts from foreign governments, adding: “This shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Mr Stewart is not the only MP to have been courted by Bahrain’s government. In total, the country spent over £20,000 to bring British Tory MPs, including Mr Stewart, to an event in the kingdom in late November last year. The other MPs were Tobias Ellwood, Bob Seely, and Royston Smith.

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