The Saudi blockade of Yemen has left 20 million people on the brink of starvation, but some UK parliamentarians prefer not to notice, instead filling up their bellies with the help of royal hospitality of Riyadh, measuring in tens of thousands of pounds.
According to the Middle East Eye, members of UK parliament have accepted some £94,189 ($126,939) worth of luxury hotel stays, lavish dinners, business class flights, donations and other forms of hospitality from the Saudi government this year alone.
So far this year, 13 Conservative MPs have accepted the royal welcome, as well as one Labour MP, who reportedly got a donation worth £6,722 ($8,964), from the Saudi Kingdom.
The Saudi lobbying blitz seems to be working. Earlier this month it was revealed that the UK had exported £4.7 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the start of the Yemen war in March 2015 – an increase of almost 500 percent when compared to total weapon sales from January 2008 to April 2015. Since the beginning of the war, British MPs accepted more than £130,000 ($173,300) worth of donations and services from Saudi Arabia, according to the Register of Members’ Interests.
However, the outpouring of Saudi generosity also coincides with increasing scrutiny of the Yemen war.
Former Tory cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell recently accused the UK of being “dangerously complicit” in a Saudi-led campaign against Yemen that is “promoting a famine and the collective punishment of an entire population.” But Riyadh managed to find a sympathetic friend in Leo Docherty, a Conservative MP and former chair of Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC).
In September, Docherty led a delegation of four Tory MPs on a six-day trip to Saudi Arabia, during which the British parliamentarians met with King Salman and other senior officials at the al-Salam palace.
Upon returning home, each MP declared gifts of £7,800 ($10,400) from the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the form of business-class flights, luxury accommodation and food, transport and hospitality.
But as Middle East Eye reports, Docherty failed to disclose his trip to Saudi Arabia when, a month later, he “submitted two written questions regarding arms exports to Saudi Arabia and in defence of the Ministry of Defence’s support for a close relationship with the kingdom” – a violation of the Commons code of conduct.
Advocates for the kingdom and its insatiable appetite for arms can be found at the highest levels of the UK government. In October, then-defense secretary Michael Fallon infamously urged MPs to stop criticizing Saudi Arabia, arguing that questioning Saudi crimes against Yemen wasn’t helpful for UK arms sales. Not everyone is convinced, though.
“The shameless arms supplies to Saudi Arabia … may amount to lucrative trade deals, but the UK risks aiding and abetting these terrible crimes,” James Lynch, head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said in a recent statement.