Prime Minister Theresa May Disavows Comments, Reaffirms British-Saudi Friendship

Saudi Arabia is “playing proxy wars” says FM Boris Johnson – BBC News

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s supporters defend the “gaffe prone” diplomat as Prime Minister Theresa May disowns his comments about Saudia Arabia engaging in “proxy wars” in the Middle East. Andrew Mitchell, former international development secretary, said: “The reality is that Britain has a complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia and our economic and political interests do not always coincide. In many ways, Saudi is an important ally but we have a duty as their candid friend to warn them about areas of difficulty.” Sarah Wollaston highlighted Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record and said that Boris Johnson’s comments were appropriate and necessary to begin a dialogue about the issue. Prime Minister Theresa May was thought to have included Boris Johnson in the cabinet in order to secure support from pro-Brexit voters for the deal that her government eventually negotiates with the European Union, but now some speculate there is a concerted effort on the part of No. 10 to undermine the Foreign Secretary, who was once favored for the Conservative Party leadership post after David Cameron’s resignation announcement.

Theresa May said that Johnson was speaking for his own person when he made the controversial comments, and reiterated the strong ties between Great Britain and Saudi Arabia, who is a “vital partner for the UK, particularly on counter-terrorism and, when you look at what is happening in the region, we are supportive of the Saudi-led coalition, which is working in support of the legitimate government in Yemen against the Houthi rebels.” The relationship between the Prime Minister and her Foreign Secretary has nonetheless become strange, despite the PM’s protestations to the contrary. She has twice made public jokes at his expense, among other gestures. Supporters of Boris Johnson point to the appalling record of the regime in question, as well as other regimes in the Middle East that Theresa May deemed “vital” to the United Kingdom, among which are Bahrain where the death sentence is employed liberally for even the smallest infraction of the law.

The quote that launched a thousand controversies is characteristically blunt for Boris Johnson, but lacking in diplomatic tact: “There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region. And the tragedy for me – and that’s why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area – is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves.” The Saudi government expressed its understanding of British-Saudi relations to be within the terms described by the Prime Minister during her visit prior to Boris Johnson’s remarks.

Labor shadow foreign secretary argued that Theresa May’s continual public admonitions of her foreign secretary undermined his position, saying: “If Boris Johnson keeps getting slapped down by Theresa May every time he states a position, nobody is going to take him seriously when he claims to speak for Britain abroad, and no foreign power is ever going to negotiate with him.‎ So I agree that Boris should refuse to apologise, but equally, if he does believe that Saudi Arabia is fighting proxy wars in countries like Yemen, with millions of children caught in the crossfire, then why is he happy for Britain to continue selling Riyadh the weapons they are using to fight those wars? The government cannot complain about Saudi Arabia’s military actions one minute, then continue selling it the arms to [carry out] those actions the next. We need to see some consistent principle in the UK’s foreign policy, not more shabby hypocrisy.”

[The Guardian – ]