Tory ministers accept 20 luxury food hampers from Saudi Arabian regime worsening famine in Yemen

Campaigners said the gifts were a symbol of the government’s close relationship with the autocracy

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Sunday 21 May 2017 12:37 BST
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox are among ministers who accepted hampers since the bombing in Yemen began
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox are among ministers who accepted hampers since the bombing in Yemen began (AFP/Getty)

Senior Tory ministers including Boris Johnson and Liam Fox have accepted luxury food hampers as gifts from the Saudi Arabian government despite criticism of the country for its human rights’ record and contributing to a famine by bombing civilians in neighbouring Yemen.

The Saudis have gifted Conservative ministers 20 luxury food hampers costing around £200 each since the party came to power in 2010, according to official government records analysed by The Independent.

Campaigners said the hampers were a “garish sign of friendship” between the autocracy and Whitehall, noting the irony of food hampers being given while millions starved due to Saudi bombs.

The United Nations has warned that seven million people are in danger of starving to death in Yemen, which has been the subject of a bombardment by Saudi Arabian warplanes since 2015.

In January the UN said the death toll from the intervention, on the side of the internationally-recognised Yemeni government, had reached 10,000 people. It has also said the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for most of the civilian casualties in the conflict against Houthi rebels.

Ministers Mr Johnson, Mr Fox, Greg Hands and Tobias Ellwood have all accepted hampers since the start of the Saudi bombardment of Yemen in April 2015, with the other ministers accepting them before. Lib Dem Vince Cable also accepted a hamper in 2011. After being accepted most of the hampers were retained by the ministers’ departments, with some used for hospitality or passed on elsewhere.

The Foreign Secretary was also given a “solid metal/silver horse ornament” in September last year by the country’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir. The horse is being held by the Foreign Office.

“The Saudi dictatorship has one of the worst human rights records in the world – it executes its critics and treats women appallingly. Its bombing campaign in Yemen has killed thousands and pushed millions to the edge of starvation,” Joe Lo of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) told The Independent.

“This garish sign of friendship is all too typical of the close-knit relationship between Whitehall and the Saudi regime. The UK Government should be using its influence to stand up for those suffering in Yemen, not accepting luxury hampers from those that are bombing them.”

The Government is currently defending a High Court legal challenge against CAAT over the issue of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Ministers have continued to sign off arms exports to the country despite reports of the bombing of civilians and advice from the chief civil servant in charge of export control that it should be paused.

As many as 460,000 children face severe malnutrition in Yemen and 70 per cent of the population struggle to feed themselves (Reuters) (REUTERS/Naif Rahma)

Targets reportedly hit by the Saudi Arabian coalition in Yemen include schools, hospitals, wedding parties and food factories.

Theresa May last month defended Britain’s ties to the autocratic country, while Donald Trump made the nation the first stop on his first foreign tour.

“Rather than just standing on the sidelines and sniping, it’s important to engage, to talk to people, to talk about our interests and to raise, yes, difficult issues when we feel it’s necessary to do so,” the Prime Minister said.

An HM Government spokesperson said: “The Government has clear and strict rules in place on ministers accepting gifts or hospitality and all gifts are received in accordance with the Ministerial Code.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “These are not personal gifts that ministers have received – the goods are typically donated to charity or retained by departments. Governments of all political colours routinely receive gifts from diplomats.”

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