A summary of the parliamentary hearing "UK and the Gulf" on 4th May 2016 in relation to the UAE
On May 4 2016, MPs discussed Britain and it’s relationship with the Gulf States in Westminster Hall. ‘The UK and the Gulf’ debate was secured by Conservative MP for Bristol North West Charlotte Leslie.
The emphasis on the debate was on the importance of UK relationship with the Gulf due to economic, strategic and historical ties. The discussion emphasised the UK’s relationship with the Gulf as a close ally, with a strong and deeply intertwined historical connection, providing stability in the region and security, in the fight against Daesh and extremism. There was also a significant emphasis placed on the business relationships and benefits, with little questioning of the UAE's increasingly questionable human rights record.
In her opening speech, Charlotte Leslie MP opened up the debate stating that "it's time for the West to be clearer to its historical allies about who it's friends are" and that it's a "time to seize economic opportunities". Her speech focused on Islam, extremism and the fight against Daesh. She hailed the UAE Hedayah anti-extremism unit as having "the most sophisticated" understanding of extremism that she has come across.
Leslie relayed some of her conversations with UAE ministers and ambassadors and went on to share insights about the causes of extremism, including a conversation with the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, during which he warned her about the "dangers of a digital world".
Leslie described social media as "a dangerous trend" and failed to acknowledge the draconian measures of the UAE Cyber Crimes Law.
She also argued that "this is a time to recognise the UAE's increased military activity and high-level capability" but did not mention the UAE's involvement in strikes against Yemen that have caused a humanitarian crisis and in violation of international law.
Leslie was followed by the Shadow Minister for Justice Andy Slaughter. Slaughter diverted the attention back to the UAE's human rights abuses and highlighted that there are currently 27 Britons detained and to the 37 British nationals who have made allegations of torture and mistreatment there in the past five years. He requested that the Prime Minister review the UK's special relationship with the UAE in light of the report by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calling on the UAE to release several foreign nationals, including from Canada and the US, who it says have been detained arbitrarily, tortured and forced to sign confessions.
Slaughter raised the case of the former Leeds United managing director who was imprisoned under the cybercrimes law for merely criticising the UAE government, who upon returning to the UK said he had suffered ill treatment and abuse:
“I was punched around, I was hit, I was tasered. People attempted to sexually abuse me. I now have a problem with my eyes. You are constantly kept in the dark…it damages your eyes.”
Slaughter went on to discuss the UAE's involvement with Saudi Arabia in a civil war against Yemen, with British advice and support. He pointed out that war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law have been reported to have been committed and urged that the UK should not be complicit with these.
Slaughter also requested the government seize allocating further Arab Partnership Participation Fund moneys to the UAE by the Foreign Office until a review has been conducted in the light of the recent statement by UN special rapporteur on torture, Professor Juan E. Méndez. Slaughter pointed out that Professor Juan E. Méndez has " received credible information that detainees were tortured and forced to sign confessions, and his request for a country visit to the UAE is outstanding."
The following contributions promoted the UAE and UKs friendship. Speakers emphasised the issues of stability and security and the UAE’s role as an "important" ally and "our friend". A majority of the speakers also spoke of the long history between UK and UAE and present "defence co-operation" for counterterrorism and the fight against Daesh.
Some speakers emphasised the trade and economic opportunities in the UAE. Evidence of this relationship with the UAE was given by several speakers, including Flick Drummond Conservative MP for Portsmouth South. She said:
"It is with British help that (UAE) businesses have become so successful. During our visit, as we have mentioned, we met Sir Tim Clark, who built up the Emirates airline, which now sponsors the Emirates Spinnaker tower in Portsmouth, and Simon Moore, who is running Jebel Ali, the port on which Dubai originally built its wealth. Dubai Ports owns Southampton port and has just built the London Gateway port. Investment is going both ways, including to the northern powerhouse, and my aim is to get more investment into the southern powerhouse and particularly Portsmouth."
Other speakers spoke of a deal Sir Tim Clark made using UK connections to buy Rolls-Royce engines for the Emirates fleet. Another pointed out that Emirates airline is by the far the biggest customer for Airbus 1380 aircraft, manufactured in north Wales. He stated "It has been calculated that Emirates’ investment in this country, via its purchase of Airbus aircraft, indirectly accounts for some 7,000 jobs."
Shadow Minister for Middle East, Diana Johnson MP said:
"It is frustrating that the Government are reluctant to use the strength of those relationships to push for vital reforms. When it comes to human rights, democracy and environmental protections, we should expect the highest standards from our friends and allies, yet the Government appear reluctant to prioritise any of those issues."
She went on to highlight the reluctance among the Foreign Office ministers to raise human rights issues in the region. This was remotely backed up by another speaker, who recommended to use the stable and strong relations in these Gulf States to encourage democracy and promote human rights.
The few faint voices speaking out against human rights abuses in the UAE during the discussion were right to ask at what cost to human lives the UK is maintaining the status of quo of its relationship with the UAE; and point out that the UK should be using its strong relationship with the UAE to push for human rights and democracy.