Many readers will know that I don’t usually comment on foreign affairs in my column in the Royal Sutton Coldfield Observer. But news that the Saudis have perpetrated the murder of the high-profile journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in a Nato partner country has sparked international outrage and I want to address the issues raised, today.
I have been a fervent critic of the Saudi’s foreign policy in The Yemen. I speak regularly on the state of affairs in The Yemen and have never shied away from criticising my own Government for being complicit in the Kingdom’s collective punishment of an entire nation. And there are many throughout the Royal Town who share my indignation and strongly support what I have said – as I know from the numerous correspondence I have received over the past two years.
I accept that Saudi intelligence is important in countering terrorism at home and that we also have a trading partnership that supports thousands of jobs here in the UK. But Riyadh’s increasing intolerance of dissidents represents a new and precarious challenge to Britain’s close, if complex, relationship with Saudi. It is important to be a candid friend and not a craven one.
It is well known that Mr Khashoggi was a vocal critic of the regime with a regular column in The Washington Post and he frequently contributed to the Guardian. He was something of a thorn in the side of the Crown Prince. At the time of writing, it has just been reported that Mr Khashoggi’s body parts had been found in the garden of the Saudi Consul-General in Istanbul.
Across the world Saudi Arabia’s powerful allies have expressed incredulity both at its initial claim that Khashoggi had died in a fight and at the suggestion that the leadership of the regime had nothing to do with his fate.
Ultimately, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for what appears to be a naked act of state terrorism. The idea that Britain could stand idly by while one of its closest allies murders a prominent journalist would reek of hypocrisy after the dispute with Russia over the attempted state-sponsored assassination in Salisbury.
Support for press freedom is supposed to be a pillar of British foreign policy. The United Kingdom has been nothing if not a bastion for free speech and liberty of expression, and we will be judged harshly if we were to relinquish that hard-earned reputation now.
As part of my very minor new role at Birmingham University I will be meeting Simon Collinson, the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Director of City-REDI to talk about Town Centre regeneration. Professor Collinson is internationally renowned for his expertise in how to develop the Centres of Towns in the new era with the unprecedented pressures on high street retail and the changing nature of shopping.
I am looking forward to my meeting with him to discuss creative new ideas which could be applicable to the work our Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council are doing on the regeneration of our Town Centre.