Ministers disagree over whether Britain should work with the Saudi Arabian prison system

Michael Gove is said to be opposed to a key contract his department has

Jon Stone
Tuesday 13 October 2015 12:23 BST
The Saudi Arabian monarchy is an autocracy
The Saudi Arabian monarchy is an autocracy (Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Two Cabinet ministers are at odds over whether to scrap a controversial prison contract deal with Saudi Arabia, it has been reported.

The Times newspaper says Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, wants to call a halt to the £5.9m deal to provide assistance to the Saudi penal system.

Mr Gove reportedly thinks the UK should not work with the justice system of a country that uses beheadings and crucifixion as punishment.

Amnesty International says the country has executed 175 people over the last year. Crimes punishable by death under Saudi’s penal code include adultery.

But Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond is said to have accused Mr Gove of naivity for his opposition to the contract, leading to a “robust exchange of views” between the two ministers.

The Foreign Secretary is said to believe that cancelling the deal would have wider diplomatic ramifications for the UK.

Downing Street has said the contract should go ahead, the Times reports.

Previous stands taken against the Saudi Arabian regime have not gone the UK’s way.

High Court documents released in 2008 alleged that an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into Saudi Arabia was dropped because of threats by the kingdom to stop sharing intelligence on terror plots.

The files said the UK was told it faced “another 7/7” and the loss of “British lives on British streets” if intelligence was cut off.

Downing Street blocked the investigation from continuing, the Guardian newspaper reported at the time.

The UK sells billion of pounds worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Between May 2010 and May 2015 the Coalition government licenced almost £4bn in arms to the regime, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.

Saudi is currently involved in a military operation in Yemen, where a “humanitarian disaster” is unfolding, according to the United Nations.

Significant numbers of civilian casualties have been reported during the conflict, including those of 15 people at a Yemeni wedding.

62% of the public oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with only 16% supporting them, according to a poll conducted by Opinium for the campaign group.

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