The UK shouldn’t be blinded to the failings of Saudi Arabia by the charm offensive surrounding the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the opposition Labour Party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Emily Thornberry, warned.
The prince is due to dine with Queen Elizabeth II and meet with senior ministers and officials during his three-day visit to London.
He has questions to answer about Saudi involvement in the civil war in Yemen, funding for fighters in Syria and human rights at home, Thornberry said Wednesday in a Bloomberg TV interview.
“Although there’s a big PR exercise going on at the moment about what a reformer the prince is, there are certainly a number of major blots on his copy book,” Thornberry said. “The relationship with Saudi Arabia is an important one, they are important friends, but friends should speak the truth to each other.”
Prime Minister Theresa May argues that the kingdom’s leaders should be welcomed as crucial business and intelligence partners and has rolled out the red carpet for the visit, the first by the prince since his appointment last year. She has said she will raise concerns in private about the war in Yemen, but Thornberry said that was not enough.
Saudi bombing in Yemen is contributing to “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment,” Thornberry said. When set alongside the kingdom’s interventions in Syria, Lebanon and Qatar, and the increase in executions and arrests, that suggests the claims of reform are exaggerated, she said.
“All new leaders of Saudi Arabia we’re told are reformers and of course we should be pleased that at some time in the future women will be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia - they’re allowed to drive in the rest of the world - but there are a number of other things that need to be considered as well,” she said. In Yemen “we play a part because we are selling arms to them,” she said.
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