The loss of “British lives on British streets”

February 14, 2008 at 7:41 pm | Posted in British Politics | Leave a comment
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The cost of investigating corruption. A high court challenge to the government killing an investigation into dodgy-looking arms deals between BAE and Saudi Arabia (there’s a brief history of the whole sorry mess here) reveals more evidence of concern that pursuing the investigation could pose a threat to national security.

When this spectre of mass death was first raised by Blair & co, I enthusiastically called bullshit. After all, this is the same gang whose greatest hits include the dodgy dossier, the David Kelly affair and the presence of tanks outside Heathrow airport little more than a month before Parliament was to vote on an unpopular war (funnily enough, they haven’t been seen since). With this crew’s mendacious political methodology, I assumed the ‘national security’ excuse was used to shroud the primary reasons for the whitewash – namely the economic & political consequences of investigating corruption

But I am far more likely to trust civil servants than career politicians, and whilst this written statement by the Serious Fraud Office’s David Wardle is not heavy on specifics, it does suggest that there was sustained pressure from Saudi representatives, which made those involved in the investigation take the national security question more seriously:

Although the Shawcross representations dated 16 December 2005 raised the possibility that Saudi Arabian cooperation with the UK in combating terrorism might be endangered, at that stage there was no suggestion that this danger was imminent. The position changed significantly when actual representations were made by Saudi representatives as to the consequences of continuing the investigation…

Following my first meeting with the Ambassador I considered inviting BAE to plead guilty to certain offences, in the hope that it would be possible to avoid serious damage to UK national security without the need to drop the case. But following further discussions with the Ambassador, and the Prime Minister’s minute, it became apparent to me that unless I stopped the investigation it was likely that UK national security would be seriously damaged and lives would be put at risk…

I do not believe that I set aside the rule of law. I had to balance competing public interests. I considered that the risk to national security was such a compelling public interest that it outweighed the public interest in continuing the investigation. Although stopping the investigation went strongly against the grain, I still believe that I made the right decision.

The message that screams out of Wardle’s statement is they were blackmailed by Saudi representatives into either ceasing the investigation or seeing the suspension of important counter-terror links between the two countries. Bizarrely, I’m now hoping that the main motivation was money, and that Blair felt he must cancel the investigation to hold onto other lucrative defence contracts. For if the implications in Wardle’s statement are true, Britain would look more weak from this mess than from any of the other foreign policy messes we’ve walzed into recently (the Iranian hostage crisis, the Litvenenko farce etc). If true, it signals that we’re willing to break treaties and surrender our reputation for fairness and anti-corruption all because a supposed ally threatens to stop helping us find the fanatics who would incinerate our citizens.

We might never know the exact reasons behind the cancelling of the fraud investigation, but we do know something with a degree of certainty:

For as the Saudi’s are in the business of buying, we’ll be in the business of selling.

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