Mid Sussex’s MP has defended the UK’s diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia after the state held a number of executions last week.
The Middle East country reported to have executed 47 people, including a Shia cleric, a move that has caused tensions with other countries in the region, principally Iran.
But MP Sir Nicholas Soames described the Saudis as ‘essential and very long-standing allies and friends’ after a statement on the situation in the House of Commons yesterday (Tuesday January 5).
Sir Nicholas said: “Does my hon. friend agree that although this is a complex relationship, the Saudis are often very difficult allies and they often find us very difficult and inexplicable, too?
“Does he also agree that in a region racked by civil war and political upheaval, they are essential and very long-standing allies and friends, and are not just to be cast aside like President Mubarak?”
Tobias Ellwood, parliamentary under-secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, replied: “My right hon. friend, who has huge experience in this area, makes a very important point.
“I made reference to the fact that Saudi Arabia is a young state, created in 1932.
“There was no sense of nation state before that. There was no sense of central Government; rather, there were powerful tribal structures.
“It remains a mostly socially conservative society, where today’s leadership is on the liberal end of opinion—we must not forget that. We will therefore continue to work with Saudi Arabia to make sure that it moves towards its programme of reforms and modernisation.”
But Hilary Benn, Labour shadow foreign secretary, said the executions had ‘caused a major diplomatic and political crisis’, and the basis of any close relationship rested on the two parties being honest with each other.
He added: “These mass executions have caused dismay and outrage around the world.”
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