It should go without saying that bribery and corruption is wrong. It should also go without saying that it is inconsistent with an ethical foreign policy.
Still, it seems that the current UK Government is determined not to allow the actions/inaction of a previous one to be accounted for and punished. The Thatcher Government, lest we forget, got the Al-Yamamah deal through in 1985. This is why it isn’t Tories who are complaining about the scandal, because there must be a fair few senior Conservatives and supporters who were a little worried that a continued investigation might end up with a knock on their doors.
The forces of law and order were investigating allegations of bribes, and the decision was taken at the highest level – Blair – to shut it off for reasons of ‘national security’. Presumably the Saudis had said that they would stop co-operating with us on the ‘War on Terror’ if we outed their Royal Family as grubby men on the make.
My problem with this capitulation is that it won’t stop the Saudis from continuing to pursue their dodgy way of doing business (it’s not like the Saud family don’t cream enough from their own nation, that they have to siphon funds from any foreign deal too). Yeah, if we pull out, it means that other countries will benefit, and if the Al-Yamamah deal collapses, there will be some impact on BAE itself, and its employees. However, these are just excuses. Do we need to be competing to sell weapons? Should we be encouraging the proliferation of military hardware into unstable regions and nations with autocratic regimes? Can’t we redirect BAE into less deadly business, such as civilian aircraft?
What I reckon has happened is that some officials in the Foreign Office (and some in the Home Office) gave advice, which politicians took, not because they wanted to, but because the advice itself and the source came across as authoritative.
The problem is that sometimes the official’s advice is wrong. It was wrong at a local level in 2001 when they said we shouldn’t have an investigation into the causes of flooding in Maidenbower and other parts of the town. Luckily, I managed to convince enough councillors of that before it was too late (and it was luck, rather than any particular political genius, and I got a right ear-bashing for violating the whip).
It’s wrong in this case too. If we don’t get direct help from Saudi Arabia, that doesn’t mean that we won’t be getting a fair amount of information through our other allies which originates from Saudi (they can’t exactly stop the CIA forwarding it on). Perhaps we should instead be taking a long hard look at whether they really are a solid ally on a ‘War on Terror’ anyway – they are not above funding dodgy groups in the Middle East, they repress their own people, they attempt to fit up foreigners to hide the fact that terrorists were setting off bombs.
The problem is that Social Democrats, and I see the Blairites as being prime examples of the creed, tend to overvalue the contributions of bureaucrats. The notion is that they are experts, that they have the interests of the State (or whatever they serve) as the prime or only motivation and that if you ignore their advice they will go against you. I think all three are false – they are human and just as fallible and prone to bias as anyone, and for the most part they may actually respect you if you go against their advice for a solid and ethical reason.