Revealed: Boris’s Imperialist dream: £3 billion for military adventures ” East of Suez”

boris_johnson

Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson

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The row over Boris’s clumsy intervention over ” proxy  wars ” and ” puppeteering ” by  Saudi Arabia in the brutal war in Yemen has somewhat obscured what Britain is really up to in the Middle East.

The full text of Boris Johnson’s speech to his Arab audience in Bahrain released by the Foreign Office at the weekend reveals that we are going to be spending vast sums of public money propping up the  undemocratic and inhumane regimes run by wealthy Arab Sheikhs  in return for their investment in Britain. We are reviving plans for a world military role ” East of Suez”.

All this at a  time when Theresa May is committed to retaining austerity at home well after 2020 with  all that entails in cuts to disabled benefits, social care,public services and restricting the growth of the NHS.

Boris began his speech by boasting how his new foreign policy overturned Harold Wilson’s 1968  Labour Cabinet decision to withdraw Britain’s troops from Borneo,Singapore and the Middle East. He showed extraordinary affinity for the then foreign secretary, George Brown, who like Boris, was a very colourful figure once found in the gutter after a particularly hard night’s drinking..

He described his decision as ” a triumphant vindication” for  the ” brilliant “George Brown over  Europhile Roy Jenkins  who with a ” frog like beam ” was determined to get Britain into Europe ( how Brexiteers love to damn Europhiles even way back to 1968!).

But it was the picture he drew for Britain’s future role for” centuries to come ” that was the most revealing.

He pledged that Britain would be involved in any future crisis in Gulf – which given the present volatile situation is no mean commitment.

As he put it “:any crisis in the Gulf is a crisis for Britain – from day one; that your security is our security ” and that ” your interests military, economic, political – are intertwined with our own..”

He goes on to cite  the billions Britain is spending for new military engagements in the Middle East.

This includes:Reopening HMS Jufair, a naval support facility  in Bahrain, which His Majesty the King of Bahrain,Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said he remembered from his childhood before our disengagement.

Basing  Britain’s Gulf Defence Staff in Dubai.

Developing the Al-Minhad air base in the United Arab Emirates providing a hub for the RAF.

Establishing a Regional Land Training centre for the British army – one of only four in the world.

As Boris put it : “Britain has in total 1,500 military personnel in the region and 7 warships, more than any other Western nation apart from the US.  We are spending £3 billion on our military commitments in the Gulf over the next 10 years and that is deepening a partnership that is stronger than with any other group of nations in the world outside NATO.”

So what is the pay back.?So much Arab money is pouring into London that the city is becoming a Gulf owned state. Boris named the capital as the 8th Emirate.

As he put it : “London is sometimes called the eighth Emirate. I think I may have made that up myself, but we’re proud of it.”

And he detailed how much retail estate is owned by Gulf states in London.

The Qataris own The Shard, Olympic Village,Harrods, and Chelsea Barracks.

The UAE owns the Excel exhibition centre in Docklands and the Tidal Array in the Thames Estuary . And there is the Emirates cable car across the Thames.

The Gulf states own the DP World Port. which has replaced London Docklands.

And even City Hall the seat of London government is owned by Kuwait.

 

As Boris said :” I didn’t know it until today but I’m stunned to find out.”.

Of course the foreign secretary stated that Britain gains from exports to the Middle East – from Marks and Spencer to military equipment and even sand for golf bunkers.

However after Britain’s bruising encounter in Iraq it seems the Tories are rapidly becoming the main defenders of a group of very wealthy Arabs – all of whom ( it has happened already) could face uprisings in the future from their own people.

Britain would have to defend them or see large swathes of the capital being owned by the very people who have overthrown them or if there is war – by another country.

I am not sure how keen the British people will be to get involved – but for the Tories ( although they were careful not to say it) it has smacks of returning to the glory days of Empire and Rule Britannia. That could be a very big mistake.

 

 

 

 

Bumped by Trump: How Whitehall used the US elections as cover for £1 billion military spending blunders

donald-trump-pic-credit-cnn

Donald Trump Pic credit: CNN

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One of the oldest tricks in the Whitehall playbook is to use a major event as cover to publish unpalatable or embarrassing news.

It means the media are diverted by the event and don’t notice the announcement or report.

It worked an absolute treat for the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury over the US elections to hide two very bad news stories for them. They couldn’t believe their luck when Trump unexpectedly won.

The Ministry of Defence took advantage on polling day to slip a very embarrassing announcement about money for war veterans pensions and disability payments. Evidently the previous July the Treasury, believe it or not, forgot to include in its spending statement the proper  money to pay them this year. As a result they will have to raid the contingency reserve for emergency payments to make sure these veterans have the money.

Mark Lancaster, parliamentary secretary to the ministry, admitted the error in a written statement to the Commons just as Parliament rose on November 8  describing the failure to disclose it as an “inadvertent publishing error”.  It involved a staggering £438,193,000 in the Armed Forces Pensions and Compensation scheme which is available to serving and former personnel who are injured in military service including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The second cover up by the Ministry of Defence came on results day. This was an embarrassment to the image of the Ministry of Defence. For years they have endured criticisms on cost overruns on equipment, bad spending decisions and lack of control.

Last year this was all meant to change. A new agency the Defence Equipment and Support, was supposed to take control  and rein in all these errors. It describes itself as a bespoke agency in charge of equipment and projects for the armed forces.

Well it seems to have deliberately chosen  the US election day to publish its first report. The reason I suspect is that the National Audit Office has qualified its accounts and made a stinging attack on its performance. The NAO can only release this when the report is published and the agency chose election day to do it.

The report by Amyas Morse, the Comptroller and auditor General is damning.Some £499 million of public expenditure cannot be properly accounted for.

“I have qualified my opinion on the financial statements due to a limitation on the scope of my audit because DE&S has been unable to provide me with adequate evidence to enable me to confirm whether or not the private sector support costs, other programme costs and the related trade and other payables balance shown in the financial statements are free from material misstatement.

“I believe this situation has arisen because the Agency’s financial management systems, processes and controls for these transactions and balances are not yet sufficiently well developed to meet the Agency’s needs.”

Examples include having to manually insert some 100,000 changes into the computer programme because it had not  been drawn up properly. And reporting money for the wrong year.

Luckily in both cases MPs are not going to let the matter rest- and come back to the issues

Nia Griffith, the shadow Defence  Secretary has attacked the government for putting at risk funding to help military veterans warning that they must be given an urgent reassurance that they will not lose money.

Anne Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick on Tweed and a member of the  Public Accounts Committtee, said :“At a time when we are seeing a lot of change in the Ministry of Defence, causing a great deal of anxiety for those who are serving, it is very disappointing to see Defence Equipment & Support has not got to grips with financial management.

“At the same time there are serious issues with service family accommodation, highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee which would benefit from a much smaller investment.

“This points to a lack of joined-up financial planning in the Ministry and raises concerns about whether the department is delivering value for money across the board.”

Quite right. Whitehall must not get away with playing games with how it discloses it is spending our money. I have written a news article for Tribune magazine on this.

 

My views on Exaro,the Middle East and Jeremy Corbyn before MPs resigned en masse from his Shadow Cabinet

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This interview with the Lebanon based Arab News Network was about to be put up on the Exaro News  website just before it abruptly  closed. Arranged through Tim Pendry. then a director of Exaro, it puts the case for Exaro’s investigative journalism. It also discusses events in the Middle East and why Jeremy Corbyn became popular with the rank and file membership of the Labour Party. It took some time from the date of the original interview which took place at the end of March before it was put up on YouTube in June. It is rather long so I don’t expect you to listen to the lot.

Expect a sequel to this as  I am planning to do an interview with Fabrice Bardsley on The Bunker Show for Dark City Radio on what happened since for both Exaro and Jeremy Corbyn and my hopes for the future. The broadcast is scheduled to go out on August 10.

 

 

 

The mystery of the secret discovery of chemical WMD in Iraq which poses more questions than answers

Sir John Chilcot

Sir John Chiilcot: Pic Credit: BBC

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It could be from the pages of a novel. But my colleague and co author Nick Kochan has an extraordinary story on the Exaro website this week just as the damning Chilcot report on the Iraq War has been published.

The essence of the story is a large cache of  chemical weapons  shells containing the nerve gas sarin were discovered and destroyed  by the Americans and British in a remote British area of Iraq in 2005 and 2006 long after the UN weapons inspectors had disappeared.

The source for the story has told Exaro about how the CIA using a front company purchased thousands of shells many containing the nerve gas sarin from an Iraqi war lord and then destroyed all the weapons.

Incredible as this may seem this story is stood up by information released in the United States under the US Freedom of Information Act and in the UK  to a lesser extent by the Ministry of Defence.

The US info which named the clandestine operation as Avarice  and the British operations were known as  Bedouin 1 and 2..

In 2015, the New York Times reported details of covert operations that involved the CIA, US military intelligence and the British Army.

The International Business Times, a US-based website, later revealed details of the British-led Bedouin missions.

What is curious is that neither  revelation made much of a stir at the time – even though it meant that chemical WMD had been discovered.

And this week’s Chilcot report makes no mention of the clandestine operations though it does reveal that later discoveries of chemical weapons was reported to the Joint Intelligence Committee.

This  raises loads of unanswered questions. The discovery in 2006 would have been very useful to Tony Blair’s case that  Iraq still possessed chemical weapons and you would have expected Alistair Campbell to have shouted it from the rooftops. But this information was either never used or never reached either of them.

The other question is more sinister. What was the use made by the warlords of the CIA money?

For soon after many British and US troops were killed by IED’s planted by war lords to get the UK and US out of Iraq. Exaro’s source is fearful that the money paid by the CIA may have been used to buy these weapons and to kill British and American soldiers.

Given Chilcot’s strong criticism of the inadequacy of equipment for the troops including snatch landrovers this is a highly damaging allegation.

“It is possible that western forces were killed by Mahdi army funded by the CIA. Nobody ever identified what happened to the [US] money and what it was used for,” the source claimed.

“The only people who could have moved those sorts of things around that area were involved in many nefarious activities.”

So far  even with Chilcot we are none the wiser.

IRAQI FREEDOM

As Coalition Forces respond to a car bombing in South Baghdad, Iraq (IRQ), a second car bomb is detonated, targeting those responding to the initial incident. The attack, aimed at the Iraqi police force, resulted in 18 casualties, two of which were police officers, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. pic credit:bbc

A rare accolade to ” Lawrence of Arabia “

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Lawrence of Arabia – a painting by his friend, Augustus John.

Lawrence of Arabia pic Credit BBC

Lawrence of Arabia: Pic credit:BBC

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While the press has been inundated by flooding stories and fears of terrorist attacks  by Islamic State in the run up to Christmas , the government slipped out a genuine good news announcement  for fans of ” Lawrence of Arabia “.

The heritage minister, Tracey Crouch, announced that Clouds Hill, the tiny home of T E Lawrence , near Wareham in Dorset has been given Grade II * status – an Historic England  accolade given to only a few hundred buildings in England. The ruling gives its special protection.

The decision  taken 80 years after Lawrence’s death has been given no coverage by the press but is a piece of living history for anyone interested in the complex life of Lawrence – an archaeologist, manic motorcyclist, writer, Arabist, military strategist and a First World War hero.

For the tiny cottage as The National Trust site  tells you is just as exactly Lawrence left it when he died in a tragic motorcycle accident in 1935. It has no electric light, the rooms are simple and austere.

As Deborah Williams, Listing Team Leader, West at Historic England, said in the press release:

“Clouds Hill deserved to be upgraded to Grade II* in recognition of the importance of Lawrence’s life and the particular place which the cottage held in his heart. In 1923 he rebuilt the once-derelict cottage dating from 1808, making the fittings and furnishings himself, so it is very evocative of his personality and interests.”

The cottage served as Lawrence’s retreat from barrack life where he would entertain his friends and wrote most of his famous books. Famous visitors included Lady Nancy Astor, Siegfried Sassoon and Augustus John.

There is an irony given the timing of the announcement when the Middle East is in flames and Syria a hell hole. For it was Lawrence with the British government’s blessing who stirred up the Arab revolt in 1916 against the Ottoman Turks, committing terrorist attacks on their rail line across Arabia. His story was immortalised in David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia.

It was Lawrence who championed the Arab cause only to be betrayed by the French and British in a secret agreement that set up the current artificial boundaries between Iraq and Syria now straddled by Islamic State.

One wonders whether history will repeat itself in 2016 when Russia, the US, Britain, Turkey and no doubt France decide the fate of Syria.

For those interested in Lawrence in the year of the centenary of the Arab Revolt there is a website  run by The T E Lawrence Society. Events next year include a symposium at St John’s College, Oxford, looking back at the Great Arab revolt in September. And there is an exhibition on the revolt next October at the National Civil War Centre in Newark, Nottinghamshire.

The cottage itself is currently closed but re-opens on March 8.

 

 

Who Dares Wins:Trident’s greatest enemy Jeremy Corbyn backs Trident’s greatest friend and winner Julian Lewis

 Julian Lewis. MP for New Forest East,   Trident's greatest supporter

Julian Lewis. MP for New Forest East,
Trident’s greatest supporter

Update: Julian Lewis beat off rivals Bob Stewart and Richard Benyon to chair the defence select committee for the next five years. Final vote was  Julian Lewis 314 and Richard Benyon 242 after Bob Stewart’s votes were redistributed.

If it was a work of fiction about Parliament you would think I have lost the plot. But this year’s election for the defence committee has produced the strangest bedfellows. Jeremy Corbyn, feared Leftie Labour leadership contender,a darling with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and scourge of  renewing Britain’s independent deterrent has nominated  the most right wing Tory you could possibly find to chair the powerful Commons defence committee.

Jeremy Corbyn Mp, Trident's greatest enemy

Jeremy Corbyn Mp, Trident’s greatest enemy

He is backer of Julian Lewis, a passionate defender of the armed forces and the greatest defender of spending billions on  renewing Trident in Parliament. See his campaign link- he’s on a minesweeper to make his point.JL & HMS GLASSERTON (4) I am told this extraordinary situation has arisen because Leftie Jeremy and Right winger Julian share a joint passion that overrides their contrary views. Both of them want the issue of Trident properly debated  in Parliament – one to destroy any reason for having it , the other to make sure the penny pinching Tory government does not back track on spending money on it. Both are in their own different ways, anti-Establishment, and both believe in a thorough examination of the facts and proper probe into the defence budget is essential and they don’t trust more establishment Tory or Labour MPs to do a thorough job. And the amazing fact is that among Labour MPs Julian has also attracted support from the awkward squad. John McDonnell, another Labour Leftie  who also supports abolishing Trident has backed him. So has Kevan Jones, a shadow defence minister, well known for digging deep into any issue – even if he isn’t on the far Left of Labour. Among independent non establishment  Tories Julian has the support of Dr Liam Fox, Sarah Wollaston. and Charles Walker. Julian is standing against Richard Benyon and Bob Stewart. Full details on all the candidates are on the House of Commons defence committee website. Result on Wednesday.

The shameful silence of the Ministry of Justice about its commercial dealings with Saudi Arabia

Chris Grayling last yearsigning the memorandum of understanding with the Saudis; Pic Credit: UsSembassy

Chris Grayling last year signing the memorandum of understanding with the Saudis; Pic Credit: US embassy

Last week I put up a blog revealing a proposal by the commercial wing of the Ministry of Justice (yes there is one, it’s not satire!) to sell  a £5.9m contract  to the Saudi prison service to provide training and better management for their repressive judicial regime.

The British government under the guise of Chris Grayling the Lord Chancellor, seemed to be falling over itself to get a deal to provide a profit for the ministry from a regime that beheads dozens of citizens a year and flogs many more – including Rafi Badawi, a liberal blogger  facing 1000 lashes and ten years in jail for running a liberal political  website.

The scandal was taken up by lawyer David Allen Green who blogs as Jack of Kent  on his site and  as David Allen Green at the Financial Times.

What has been extraordinary is the way the Ministry of Justice have behaved since the disclosure to both me and the distinguished lawyer.

After telling me it was ridiculous to equate the scheme with selling to a country that routinely flogs  and beheads people they refused to answer some basic questions from him.

He pointed out in a very detailed and useful blog which is well worth a read – link here– that Grayling also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi government – for legal co-operation  at a time when the ministry – through Just Solutions International, its commercial wing,- wanted to start commercial contracts with the Saudi state.

He then asked them for some information – such as a copy of the memorandum of understanding, details of the £5.9m contract, details about Just Solutions International, and what it was going to do in Saudi Arabia.

Such as “For example, is JSi going to be challenging and seeking to prevent abuses when it comes across malpractice, and indeed what human rights safeguards and training are going to be built into any programme? “

The Ministry of Justice refused point-blank to provide any more information, release any details about the memorandum or the contract and when pressed added : ” “Sorry, we’re not going to give a running commentary on this.”

One wonders what the Ministry of Justice has got to hide. As Prince Charles and David Cameron dropped everything to pay their respects at  Saudi King Abdullah’s funeral last week,, it might suggest rather a lot and not just at the ministry of justice

Britain also has enormous defence and foreign affairs interests. Remember the  Serious Fraud Office dropping  the BAe Systems Saudi fraud investigation six years ago? And what about BAe speaking at Chris Grayling’s law summit as   tweeted: “To celebrate Magna Carta, Grayling is hosting with BAe speaking on “business and rule of law” . Given the Saudis put pressure on the British judicial  system to drop the rule of law, this is rather ironic Will Just Solutions International play a part?

The government and ministry of justice have a lot to answer – and they shouldn’t get away with it.

Last night The Guardian and the Independent became the first mainstream media to cover the story. See here and here.