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.

 

 

 

 

How Kenneth Clarke and Chris Grayling’s failed commercial venture cost us the taxpayer over £1m

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An extraordinary report published by the National Audit Office today on ” Just Solutions” – the commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice set up by former Lord Chancellor Kenneth Clarke – reveals that taxpayers have lost over £1m on the failed venture.

Remember this was promoted by Chris Grayling so the Ministry of Justice could make money by selling prison expertise to regimes with appalling judicial systems like Saudi Arabia and Oman. It was closed down by Michael Gove when he became justice secretary after the election.

Now the NAO reveals that not only was this unethical but it actually cost the taxpayer money. Indeed one can see how desperate the government might have been to sign a  £5.9 m contract with Saudi Arabia and further contracts with Oman – as this would have been the only way it could have made a profit out it.

Instead over four years  from 2012 to this year  it lost £302,000, £390,000 £317,000  and £141,000 respectively. leading to a £ 1,150,000 cumulative loss for the taxpayer.

And its scope was much wider than people realised with projects in Nigeria, the Seychelles, Libya, Estonia, Mauritius, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands as well as private study visits to drum up business in China, Bangla Desh, Turkmenistan and India.

As the NAO found: ” The cost of setting up JSi exceeded the income generated by completed contracts. We estimate that JSi’s costs were approximately £2.1 million from 2012 until its closure, including £239,000 on consultancy services. Therefore JSi made a net loss of approximately £1.1 million in this period. This is due, in part, to the decision to withdraw from prospective arrangements with Saudi Arabia and Oman.”

The report discloses that it had big plans for Oman.

“The initial proposal, Phase 1, was for a small piece of work to critique the plans of an
existing prison and was valued at £98,000. This was expected to be followed by work
to develop a new prison in Oman, Phase 2, valued initially at approximately £4 million
but later negotiations increased this to £7.8 million. In addition, preliminary discussions
were held in 2014 with the Omani government around a national training programme.”

Grayling also spent £6500 fighting off a judicial review  of its activities before the organisation was closed by Michael Gove.

This is all a far cry from the boasts in the Ministry of Justice six monthly report saying it was all contributing to the ministry’s budget and supposed to be saving the taxpayer money. Instead it was racking up debts.

This a sorry tale for anybody who has a shred of ethics and thought Britain should not be helping regimes that flog and behead offenders. Bur the fact that it lost money doing it is  a  further damning indictment of the government and Chris Grayling.

As Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, said yesterday:  “When Just Solutions International was closed down it had made an overall loss of £1.1 million despite a commitment that it would be self-funding by April 2013.

“Despite being a commercial venture, it generated less than £1 million income over three years.

“I am concerned by the loss of taxpayers’ money on this failed venture, and the Ministry of Justice’s ongoing work with countries with questionable human rights records.”

 

 

Dropped: The vile Saudi Arabian contract that helped prop up a barbaric justice system

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The Cabinet revolt that ended the £5.9m contract bid by the now doomed Just Solutions International – the commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice – is to be welcomed.

Justice Secretary  Michael Gove’s decision to press home ending this deal over the head of Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, and initially, David Cameron, is the only morally acceptable case. Britain could not be seen helping a country that uses public beheadings, floggings and crucifixion as a routine part of its justice system.

When I first saw the disclosure of the deal in a routine half yearly report of the Ministry of Justice laid before Parliament I had no idea we had a commercial arm of the ministry, let alone that we had already done deals with Oman and Macedonia and were bidding for a Saudi contract.

Thanks to the work of. lawyer David Allen Green – known as Jack O’Kent on Twitter- who has assiduously followed this issue since -Downing Street has become embarrassed – and finally thrown in the towel. You can follow him on the JackofKentblog

I am also delighted that Lord Falconer, the shadow Lord Chancellor has reported this to the National Audit Office – because Just Solutions International set up by Gove’s predecessor, Chris Grayling, deserves a thorough financial examination.

I am also pleased that Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader used his conference speech to demand David Cameron dropped the deal. I realise that he reads Tribune where I also featured developments there.

So for once justice has been done and seen to be done in the full glare of the media – rather than injustice being sneaked out in obscure Parliamentary reports.

So afraid of the Saudis: How the Brits daren’t cancel a contract to bolster barbaric justice

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Jeremy Corbyn has challenged David Cameron to explain why the British government can’t cancel a contract with the Saudis to provide training for their prison system just as it is about to execute a teenage dissident and crucify his body.

The Prime Minister who rightly does not spare a word in condemning Islamic State for its barbarism from throwing gay people off high buildings, and the public beheading of dissidents and hostages, is coy about financing the Saudis to behead its own dissidents or lash its social media bloggers like Raif Badawi.

Michael Gove, the new justice secretary, last week announced he was closing down Just Solutions International, the commercial wing of the Ministry of Justice that was flogging expertise to unsavoury regimes including Oman and the Saudis.

Except  that in its afterlife it will continue with a contract to Saudi Arabia,His decision reverses the policy of his predecessor, Chris Grayling, who was planning to expand its business as a way of raising revenue for the ministry without being particular about which regime’s justice system they were supporting.

The existence of Just Solutions International was revealed earlier on my own blog. So it i is good news that Michael Gove, the new justice secretary,is closing it.

This is a secretive organisation that the ministry refused to reveal any details about – despite admitting there are 2000 emails about its operations. A splendid thorough investigation of the background of the company’s bid for Saudi Arabia has been written up by David Allen Green on his Jack of Kent blog.

I have also written a story for Tribune highlighting how ministers are admitting that the real reason they have not cancelled it is because in Andrew Selous’s words -( he is the junior minister at the Ministry of Justice) – “The critical factor was the strong view from across Government that withdrawing at such an advance stage would harm HMG’s broader engagement with Saudi Arabia.”

This replaced the phoney reason originally given to Parliament which ministers had to withdraw that it couldn’t be cancelled because the government faced penalty clauses. Despite that it is still reported in some media that this is the reason.

This is an appalling situation and the fact that Jeremy Corbyn linked this to the case of teenager Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr who will be beheaded for a ” crime ” he committed when he was 14  deserves highlighting.

He wrote: “Will you step in to terminate the Ministry of Justice’s bid to provide services to the Saudi prisons system – the very body, I should stress, which will be responsible for carrying out Ali’s execution?”

The Labour leader concluded: “Ali’s case is especially urgent – the secrecy of the Saudi system means that he could face execution at any time, and even his family may only find out after the event. There is therefore no time to spare in taking this up with the Saudi authorities, if we are to prevent a grave injustice.”

Not only should he take this up  and the Foreign Office has said it will – but this contract should not go ahead. Britain should not dirty its hands with aiding a regime that imposes such cruel punishments anymore than it should support the Islamic State.

In Britain the National Audit Office ought to look at the setting up of Just Solutions International and decide whether this experiment in commercialising a department was ” value for money”..This should then be taken up by the Commons public accounts committee.

The secrecy around this is totally unjustified and it appears only Parliament can properly investigate it.

Exclusive: Michael Gove faces High Court action over selling legal services to aid Saudi beheaders and torturers

Michael Gove: Facing a High Court challenge over selling services to the Saudis

Michael Gove: Facing a High Court challenge over selling services to the Saudis

Tomorrow the High Court will receive an application from  the Gulf Centre  for Human Rights to bring a judicial review over the Justice Secretary’s decision to bid for commercial work from the Saudi Arabian government because of the regime’s appalling record of public beheadings, torturing dissidents and flogging bloggers like Raif Badawi.

The case against Michael Gove is a legacy from his predecessor Chris Grayling but is linked to an appalling case of torture against a Saudi Arabian -simply known for his own protection as AB.

The Gulf Center, a non governmental organisation based in Beirut and Copenhagen, defends independent journalists, lawyers and bloggers in the Middle East, is applying to take over the case  started by AB after it appears the Ministry of Justice retrospectively removed legal aid from him.

Central to the case is the shadowy and secretive (we know this as it vigorously finds any way not to release information) Just Solutions International, a commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice set up by Chris Grayling.As readers of this blog and those who follow the excellent  Jack of Kent aka lawyer David Allen Green will know – Just Solutions has an unenviable reputation of providing services to dodgy regimes and has a £5.9m bid for Saudi work at the moment.

The centre’s lawyers  want leave from the court to challenge whether the organisation has complied with official Whitehall guidelines before bidding for the contract and also whether Michael Gove or his predecessors  has acted illegally by creating this commercial organisation without any Parliamentary approval.

Their case cites information from  government documents on this blog and Jack of Kent’s blog. We have been separately pursuing the ministry over related issues.What they have found out is that there are no public documents saying that it followed the coalition’s  Overseas Judicial and Security Assistance guidelines.

These restrict all government departments from bidding for work from regimes which breach human rights if the Government’s reputation is damaged or is a serious risk to aiding or significantly increasing human rights abuses.These are spelled out as regimes that unlawfully detain people, have the death penalty, torture people and limit freedom of expression. Saudi Arabia ticks nearly very warning box.

Baroness Anelay: Saudi people want floggings

Baroness Anelay: Saudi people want floggings

Until now the standard response has been that this help is meant to help improve standards. that is until a comment from  foreign office minister Baroness Anelay in reference to the flogging of Raif Badawi in the Lords : ““My Lords, I think we have to recognise that the actions of the Saudi government in these respects have the support of the vast majority of the Saudi population.”

Melanie Gingell, a member of GCHR’s advisory board, said:: “It seems to us that far from improving human rights standards in the detention systems of these  regimes, the UK is more likely to be simply improving the efficiency of the systems within which these notorious abuses are being carried out.  The British public has been horrified by the public beheadings and floggings carried out in Saudi Arabia, and now mirrored by ISIS, and they have a right to know exactly what role the UK government is playing in these systems.”

She added, “We fear that the driving motivation behind these bids is purely commercial, and the veil of secrecy that has been drawn over them simply serves to deepen our concerns that the UK is making money out of the worst aspects of these regimes, that it condemns in public, but is happy to give support to in private.”

Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors (DPG) are acting for GCHR.  Adam Hundt, a partner at DPG, stated: “It is surprising that JSi’s activities have taken place shrouded in secrecy, and without parliamentary debate or approval.  If the UK is to sell its public services to regimes that behead people for sorcery, stone women to death and flog people for expressing pro-democracy views, then one would expect our Parliament to be consulted and given the opportunity to impose appropriate parameters on such activities.”

A campaign to crowd fund this action has also been launched by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. The link is http://www.gofundme.com/saudiprisons 

Too expensive to reveal: The 2000 Whitehall emails on Just Solutions International

The  secretive and expensive world of the miniistry of justice

The secretive and expensive world of the ministry of justice

Earlier this year this blog disclosed how the Ministry of Justice had  quietly set up a profit making subsidiary with the aim of marketing justice to obnoxious and corrupt regimes like Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia and has now been revealed Macedonia.

This disclosure caused some embarrassment and a lot of anger that the United Kingdom government should be bidding to profit from advising countries like Saudi Arabia who lash bloggers and hold street beheadings which the UK forcibly condemn should the Islamic State do the same. The anger is most eloquently expressed on the blog of lawyer David Allen Green who runs a superb commentary on his Jack of Kent blog.

Naturally I thought it  would be in the public interest to find  out exactly how this rather shadowy body had been set up and what was the ministerial drive behind it.So what better device than the  current Freedom of Information Act to ask the ministry the questions. That was last January .

This was my request:” I would like to request details of all emails and communications between ministers and officials held by the Ministry of Justice and NOMS regarding the establishment of Just Solutions International  under the present coalition government.”

it took the ministry exactly 28 days( the maximum under the act)  to decide that such a request was so broad that they sent me a letter saying they would refuse to proceed with it at all unless I narrowed its scope. They could have told me the next day if it was the case.

So on February 25 I sent an amended request:

“What I would like to request  are documents and communications ( by email) between officials and ( if any) between officials and ministers which led to the creation of Just Solutions International. eg pertaining to  the reason why it was set up and. its role within noms and the ministry.”

It took until late April ( way beyond the 28 day period) to answer with a lovely letter dated xx April 2015 . And guess what evidently Whitehall has so much material debating the creation of Just Solutions International that it is too expensive to send it to me.

According to the letter it exceeds the £600 cost limit and would take civil servants more than three and a half days to find them all.

As their letter says; “In this instance to provide you with the information we would be required to locate emails, which we have estimated exceed 2000, since 2012 which detail the creation of Just Solutions international.”

They have suggested I could narrow down the request a again either to a short time period or by named official ( I don’t have the names of all the officials anyway). However in the spirit of kindly co-operation I have narrowed down the time limit to one year and see if this yields any results. I await the reply  with interest though they have not given me the courtesy of saying they received the request yet.

I suspect that the officials don’t really want to release anything – because the whole volume of correspondence – seems to suggest to me that they had a lot to discuss about why and how this  private profit making company was set up. But there is no reason yet to give up and all the more reason to probe exactly what is behind an initiative that believes making money from dodgy regimes is an ethical revenue earner for the taxpayer.

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.