With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement on the death of Jamal Khashoggi.
From the moment that Jamal Khashoggi was reported missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, extremely disturbing reports emerged about his fate. On Friday, we received confirmation that Mr Khashoggi had indeed suffered a violent death, and the Saudi Foreign Minister has since described it as murder.
The Government condemn Mr Khashoggi’s killing in the strongest possible terms. Today the thoughts and prayers of the whole House are with his fiancée, his family and his friends, who were left to worry for more than two weeks only to have their worst fears confirmed. After his disappearance, the Government made it clear that Saudi Arabia must co-operate with Turkey and conduct a full and credible investigation. Anyone found responsible for any offence must be held fully accountable.
On top of our concerns about the appalling brutality involved lie two other points. First, Mr Khashoggi’s horrific treatment was inflicted by people who work for a Government with whom we have close relations. And secondly, as well as being a critic of the Saudi Government, he was a journalist. At the time of his death, Mr Khashoggi wrote for The Washington Post and had contributed to The Guardian. Because in this country we believe in freedom of expression and a free media, the protection of journalists who are simply doing their job is of paramount concern. On 9 October, I conveyed this message to the Saudi ambassador in person and to the Saudi Foreign Minister by telephone. I instructed the British ambassador in Riyadh to emphasise our strength of feeling to the Saudi Government at every level. Last week, my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary cancelled his attendance at a forthcoming conference in Riyadh. On 17 October, I met Fred Ryan, the chief executive of The Washington Post, and I spoke again to the Saudi Foreign Minister this weekend.
On Friday, the Saudi Government released the preliminary findings of their investigation. They later announced the arrest of 18 people and the sacking of two senior officials, which is an important start to the process of accountability. But I will say frankly to this House that the claim that Mr Khashoggi died in a fight does not amount to a credible explanation. There remains an urgent need to establish exactly what happened on 2 October and thereafter.
The incident happened on Turkish soil, so it is right that the investigation is being led by the Government of Turkey. They now need to establish who authorised the dispatch of 15 officials from Saudi Arabia to Turkey; when the Government in Riyadh first learned of Mr Khashoggi’s death; what became of the body; why there was a delay in allowing Turkish investigators to enter the consulate; and why it took until 19 October to disclose that Mr Khashoggi had died 17 days earlier. This matters because only after a full investigation will it be possible to apportion responsibility and ensure that any crimes are punished following proper due process.
Last week, I spoke to both my French and German counterparts, and the House will have noticed the strong statement jointly released yesterday by Britain, France and Germany. The actions Britain and our allies take will depend on two things: first, the credibility of the final explanation given by Saudi Arabia; and, secondly, our confidence that such an appalling episode cannot and will not be repeated. We will, of course, wait for the final outcome of the investigation before making any decisions.
Hon. Members know that we have an important strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, involving defence and security co-operation, which has saved lives on the streets of Britain. We also have a trading partnership that supports thousands of jobs. Although we will therefore be thoughtful and considered in our response, I have also been clear that, if the appalling stories we are reading turn out to be true, they are fundamentally incompatible with our values and we will act accordingly. Indeed such reports are also incompatible with Saudi Arabia’s own stated goal of progress and renewal. That is why the extent to which Saudi Arabia is able to convince us that it remains committed to that progress will ultimately determine the response of the UK and its allies, and we will continue to convey our strength of feeling on this issue to every level of the Saudi leadership.
In his final column, published in The Washington Post after his death, Jamal Khashoggi lamented the lack of freedom of expression in the Arab world. Let us make sure that the lessons learned and actions taken following his death at least progress and honour his life’s work. I commend this statement to the House.
First, may I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement and join him in sending condolences to Mr Khashoggi’s family and his fiancée, Hatice, a lady who waited in anguish outside the consulate for 11 hours while the Saudi butchers went about their barbaric work? She wrote this weekend:
“They took your bodily presence from my world. But your beautiful laugh will remain in my soul forever.”
The worst aspect of this disgraceful murder is that none of us has been remotely surprised about it. For the past three years, my party has warned about the actions of Mohammed bin Salman, first as the architect of Saudi policy on Yemen and then since his elevation to Crown Prince—doubling the rate of executions in his first eight months; kidnapping and beating up the Prime Minister of Lebanon and forcing him to resign; and jailing women’s rights activists and threatening to behead them. All those things have shown a man with no respect for the rule of law, no respect for international boundaries and no tolerance for dissent, all of which spelt the end for Jamal Khashoggi.
Of course, we have seen the Crown Prince’s true face most vividly in his continuing campaign in Yemen: a strategy of blockade and bombardment that has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes and put millions of children on the brink of starvation. When we look back at his air campaign, with the bombings of weddings, funerals and school buses, we have seen a repeated pattern played out. When major civilian casualties are reported, first they deny the reports are true; then they deny responsibility; and when the proof becomes incontrovertible, they say it is all a terrible mistake, they blame rogue elements, promise those will be punished and say it will not happen again—until the next time, when it does. This is exactly the same pattern we have seen here, which speaks of a Crown Prince who takes his allies for fools and relies on the fact that his lies will be believed, he will be exonerated and everyone will return to business as usual once the publicity has subsided—well not this time. Enough! It must not happen again.
The Government must wake up to the reality of who the Crown Prince is. It is just seven months since the Prime Minister rolled out the red carpet for him at Chequers, fawned all over him and hailed him as a great reformer. How utterly foolish she looks now, as some of us predicted she would do. The new Foreign Secretary has the chance to be different. He has just said, as he did on Friday morning, that if these stories are true there will be consequences for Britain’s relationship with Riyadh. But I ask him: how much more confirmation does he need? It is time to move on from asking what happened in Istanbul and who gave the orders—we all know the answers. The question is: what will the consequences that he promised be?
I ask the Foreign Secretary to consider three immediate steps. First, will he use the new Magnitsky powers included in the sanctions Bill to apply financial penalties on all individuals, up to and including the Crown Prince himself, who ordered and carried out this murder? Secondly, will the Foreign Secretary accept that UK arms sales for use in Yemen must be suspended pending a comprehensive, UN-led investigation into all alleged war crimes? Thirdly, more than two years on since the UK presented its draft resolution to the UN demanding a ceasefire in Yemen, will he finally ignore the informal Saudi veto hanging over that resolution and at last submit it to the Security Council? Those are three ways to show Saudi Arabia that there are consequences for its actions, three ways to end its impunity and persuade it to change its ways, and three ways to show this Crown Prince that we will no longer be played for fools—we have had enough.
I thank the shadow Foreign Secretary for her statement and I share the horror that she expressed so powerfully to this House, but I will say this: she will know that, in my position, she would not decide what actions to take until the investigation was complete. I simply say to her—[Interruption.] The investigation, which someone has talked about from a sedentary position, is being conducted at the moment by the Government of Turkey, and it is not yet complete. We do not yet have the results of that investigation. There is a great deal at stake that is very important for the people of this country, including counter-terrorism co-operation and the jobs of people who depend on trade with Saudi Arabia. So although I believe all of us in this House share the outrage that the right hon. Lady feels—if these stories are confirmed—we have to wait for that investigation, and I know she would do exactly the same if she was in my shoes.
I want to make this point about the three suggestions that the shadow Foreign Secretary made. First, the Magnitsky Bill is a very important piece of legislation. It cannot be enacted in this country until we have left the European Union, but we will certainly be talking to EU partners about how we can act collaboratively using EU structures. In fact, we have already had discussions about whether we should extend our sanctions regime to individuals responsible for human rights violations, which would allow precisely that to happen. But all these actions are far more effective when they are taken in concert with our European and American allies. Those are the discussions we are all having, but what we are all saying is that it would be wrong to make any decisions until we actually know what has happened. We have heard all sorts of media reports about these recordings, but to my knowledge none of us have actually seen transcripts or heard these recordings. The Turks say that all this stuff is going to be published. We do need to wait until we can see clearly the hard evidence as to what has happened. As I have made very clear this afternoon, if they turn out to be true there will be consequences and of course it will have an impact on the relationship with Saudi Arabia.
With respect to the other two points that the right hon. Lady mentioned, the situation in Yemen is heart-breaking. There is a humanitarian crisis at the moment—
There’s a war going on.
Indeed there is. I spoke to David Miliband about this when I was in New York for the UN General Assembly—perhaps that name is not supposed to be mentioned any more on the other side of the House. I urge the right hon. Lady to recognise that the faults in the crisis in Yemen go both ways. Saudi has made terrible mistakes, but missiles are also being fired from Yemen into Saudi—in fact, seven missiles have been fired at Riyadh—and the Saudi coalition is acting under the authority of UN resolution 2216.
Owing to our relationship with Saudi, we are able to press them hard to embrace a political solution, and that is what I did when I met the Saudi Foreign Minister on 27 September. I spoke to him about this on 16 August. I also met the Emirati Foreign Minister on 6 and 27 September to make that point. We are able to have that influence precisely because we have a relationship, but if we took the actions that the right hon. Lady suggests, our influence with Saudi and Emirates would be precisely zero, and the humanitarian crisis would most likely last longer.
The right hon. Lady talked about arms sales. The procedures we follow in this country, as she well knows, are among the strictest in the world. They were introduced by the late Robin Cook in 2000 and strengthened under the Conservative-led coalition in 2014. Far from selling arms left, right and centre, we do not sell to a number of large markets such as China and we do not sell to friendly Governments such as Lebanon, Libya and Iraq. In July 2017, the High Court ruled that our sales to Saudi Arabia were compliant with those regulations, but we keep the situation constantly under review, and that will include any implications that arise from the results of the Kashoggi investigation.
We are consistent in our championing of human rights across the world, but when I wanted to take action against Russia for the first ever chemical weapons attack on British soil, I was told by the Leader of the Opposition not to take action—action that was later supported by our European friends—but to return to dialogue. The difference between this side of the House and that side is not what we believe in, it is how we get there. It is our belief that British influence depends on British strength.
I am sure the whole House joins in expressing our sympathy to the Kashoggi family and his fiancé. Can I ask my right hon. Friend to talk a little about the situation we are in with Saudi Arabia? We have gone from having something that was far from a democracy, but was at least a consultative monarchy, to what is in many ways a unipolar autocracy under the Crown Prince. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this injection of vulnerability and instability into the Saudi regime is one that we should all be concerned about, but no one more than King Salman himself, who has allowed this instability in his kingdom, his rule and his house?
Although this vile murder stands alone for its horror, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is part of a pattern of abuse of press freedom that we have seen against YouTubers, critics and other writers in Saudi Arabia, and that therefore we should be very clear that this is not an individual act? The United Kingdom has been nothing if not a bastion for free speech and liberty of expression, and we must be firm in this instance too.
My hon. Friend speaks extremely powerfully and he accurately points out the fact that autocracies are inherently less stable than countries that have democratic institutions, and there is a higher risk of appalling violations of human rights. It is fair to say that in the case of Saudi Arabia over recent years there has been a pattern of deterioration, but there have also been some conflicting signals, such as allowing women to drive and other things going in the opposite direction.
What I said clearly in my statement was that the impact in terms of consequences on our relationship with Saudi Arabia will depend on the confidence that we have that these kinds of incidents cannot and will not be repeated. Giving us confidence in the reform and renewal process, which is official Saudi policy, will be essential, and that needs to take on board many of the things my hon. Friend said.
We on the Scottish National party Benches also send our condolences to the family of Jamal Kashoggi. Like so many others in the House, we are appalled by his murder by this—frankly—criminal act, regardless of how we look at it. We have seen acts throughout the world that show that the rules-based system is clearly under threat, and that should concern us all. We have rightly called out the Russians, so what consideration is being given to similar action against those who are found guilty of perpetrating this act? What independent investigations are taking place with the UK Government?
I welcome the remarks by the shadow Foreign Secretary and others about the use of the Magnitsky provisions, and I recognise what the Foreign Secretary has said about working with our European partners, because that will be vital. Freedom of press is critical here. It is critical when journalists are targeted in Turkey, in Saudi Arabia, in Russia or elsewhere in the world. We have to target those individuals who are found to be guilty, and the Foreign Secretary will have support from these Benches if he does so.
The Foreign Secretary remarked, on the heart-breaking scenes we have seen in Yemen, that fault goes both ways. Millions are affected by a man-made famine—a man-made disaster. He has also recognised that there is no military solution to the conflict in Yemen. If fault goes both ways and there is no military solution, why are we continuing to sell arms? Why can we sell arms to one of the perpetrators of that conflict when some of our European partners have made the decision to stop such arms sales? What is the difference between the UK and Germany, for example?
Let me take all of those points. When it comes to arms sales, we have strict guidelines in place, and we are following those guidelines. They involve an independent assessment as to whether the licences that we grant for arms sales present a clear risk of a future breach of international humanitarian law. We will keep those constantly under review. With respect to the situation in Yemen, I hope that he, like me, is proud that in the last year we have contributed £170 million to famine relief, one of the biggest contributions of any country.
With respect to the rules-based international order, I agree with the hon. Gentleman and it is a grave cause for concern that there are growing number of breaches across the world. The rules-based order that we all want to protect has to be one that is based on values. What is shocking about the stories that we hear about what potentially happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul is the fact that it so clearly contravenes the values in which we all believe.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned other points about which I will happily write to him.
It grieves me to have to say this, as a friend of the Saudis for nearly 40 years, but the Saudi explanation on this matter is completely implausible, and there can be no doubt that the order for this terrible crime came from the very top. Therefore, as good friends and allies of Saudi Arabia for many years, it behoves us to be extremely robust and candid with the Saudi Government. Yes, we have vital security and commercial interests with Saudi Arabia, and we do not wish just to blow them up. It is wrong to drop an inconvenient friend, but we in this country cannot tolerate such vile and brutal behaviour, and it cannot be allowed to pass without consequence.
My right hon. Friend puts it characteristically powerfully not least because of his deep understanding and knowledge of the Saudi regime. Sometimes friends have to speak very frankly to each other. All I say is that, when we have full accountability for the crimes that have been committed, which we note that the Saudi Foreign Minister himself has described as murder, that accountability must extend to the people who gave the orders for any crime that was committed and not just to the people who were there on the ground, and that is an essential part of this investigation.
I urge the Foreign Secretary to rethink the Government’s policy on Yemen. Yes, he is right that we should be proud of our humanitarian aid, and, yes, he is right that there are appalling atrocities committed by the Iranian-backed Houthis and al-Qaeda, but we need to rethink this relationship with Saudi Arabia. I urge him to consider the proposals from the shadow Foreign Secretary today for a new UN resolution, for an independent UN inquiry and, in the meantime, for us to suspend sales of arms to Saudi Arabia that might be used in Yemen.
I do hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I do think that the situation is such that we have constantly to keep under review what is happening in Yemen. Although I have been Foreign Secretary for only three months, I can reassure him that I have been very involved in what is happening in Yemen. I have had four meetings with individuals directly involved on the ground. The truth is that this is a very, very difficult situation because, as he rightly said, there is fault on both sides. The Security Council still believes that the Martin Griffiths’ approach is the right one to unlock the problems there, but the situation is very intractable. Both sides still seem to have the view that a military solution is possible. That is not our view. Our view is that the only solution here is a political one and we need to see much faster movement towards a proper political dialogue.
The whole House should welcome the clear and measured statement of the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. In particular, his reference to the Magnitsky provisions and to working with our allies, which the House insisted on being passed earlier this year in the face of what was a breathtaking and extraordinary act of state terrorism. Will he use this opportunity, as the new British Foreign Secretary, to review Britain’s position as a good and candid friend of Saudi Arabia and move from supporting the Saudi coalition on Yemen, which is indubitably engaged in perpetrating a famine, destroying vital infrastructure from the air and killing innocent civilians, to a position of mediation and neutrality designed to end the fighting, broker a ceasefire and secure meaningful negotiations?
I always listen very carefully to what my right hon. Friend says. I know that he has immense personal experience and connections with people in Yemen. I want to reassure him that our position on Yemen is not dictated by the strategic partnership that we have with Saudi Arabia. What we say to Saudi Arabia and the UAE is that we are absolutely clear that there needs to be a political process. I believe—I have been in the job only a short time—that the partnership that we have with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates means that our voice is much more listened to than it otherwise would be. None the less, the situation on the ground is appalling and it persists and we need to continue to do everything we can to seek a resolution.
The Foreign Secretary said in his statement that it is right that the Turkish authorities should lead the investigation. Has that been made crystal clear to the Saudi authorities who seem to be implying that they can conduct their own investigation?
That is a very important point, which is why, in my statement, I issued a list of questions that I think the investigation needs to answer to be credible. In particular, we need to recover the body and to find out why these 15 people were in Turkey and what their purpose was. We have not heard any of that. From my perspective, having credible answers to all these things is a very important element as to whether this investigation is credible at all.
In Riyadh, the crocodile tears of the reported condolences of Mohammed bin Salman to Jamal Khashoggi’s son, Salah el-Din Khashoggi, who is under a travel ban—he is effectively a hostage for his father’s opinions—are particularly stomach turning. The Foreign Secretary told us that we must have confidence that these matters will not be repeated, but I do not see how we can have confidence that that would be the case if Mohammed bin Salman remains in place. If the lessons are to be learned and we are to honour Jamal Khashoggi’s life work by ensuring a more open society in Saudi Arabia where criticism is seen as an asset to good policymaking and where there is a more open press to report this criticism, it can only come if there is a change of Government at the very top.
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said as vice-chairman of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia. What he said echoes the words of the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee as well, which is that political reform and progressing that political reform is, in the end, the only way that the rest of the world will really have confidence that this kind of thing will never be repeated. That is the point that we will be making loud and clear to the Saudi authorities.
A free press is essential to scrutinise power wherever it may be. If the Foreign Secretary is truly to honour Jamal Khashoggi’s death, as he clearly wishes to do, he will commit today to challenging anywhere and everywhere any Government who seek to persecute, torture or in any way hold back the actions of a free press. Can he tell us a bit more about what he will be doing to promote that value worldwide?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. I do agree with her because attacks on journalists are becoming more frequent and they strike at the heart of everything we believe in when it comes to our democratic process. So, what can we do? First, what have I done? I make a point of raising the issue of journalists whom I am worried about with any regime that I meet—I raised the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the Burmese Reuters journalists, when I met Aung San Suu Kyi. That is a practical thing and it is very important. I want all British embassies around the world to engage in that work where we have concerns about the welfare of journalists and about due process for journalists in prison, but there is a question as to whether we need to engage in a wider campaign to highlight the issue of media freedom, and that is something that we are considering at the moment.
Further to that question, without in any way wishing to diminish the horror of what happened to Mr Khashoggi, is the Secretary of State aware that Mr Khashoggi is one of 72 journalists, citizen journalists and media assistants who have been killed so far this year, according to Reporters Sans Frontières? May I, therefore, very much welcome his statement about looking to see what more can be done to protect journalists and urge him to pursue that internationally?
I am very happy to heed the advice of my right hon. Friend on that point. I had not heard the 72 number, but it is very sobering. All I would say is that, at the moment, there is a worrying trend, almost a fashion, towards autocracy and regimes thinking that they can attack freedom of expression and media freedom with impunity. That is something that the UK could never stand aside and allow to happen.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for the gravity with which he has addressed this outrage. He should be aware that the Committees on Arms Export Controls, on which I sit, have considered that it would be a good step for this country to take to ensure end-use certification for any arms that are sold. The United States do it, and it would be a demonstrable and transparent way in which we could ensure the end use for any arms sold. Is that something that he would consider in the course of how we assess our response to this outrage?
I am very happy to consider that, and I will look into the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises with a great deal of interest and get back to him.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on striking a measured tone in an extraordinarily difficult situation. I think that things will now unravel quite quickly in the Royal Kingdom, and the United Kingdom has the opportunity to play a unique role with so many in the Trump Administration compromised by their personal relations with some of the senior Saudis. If things are to change in the region and there is to be a rebalancing, will my right hon. Friend commit to playing a leading role and indulging in some shuttlecock diplomacy to get around the UAE in particular, Oman, Egypt, Kuwait and other like-minded countries to make sure that we can be part of the refashioning of a more open Saudi Arabia, which is what we had hoped was beginning to happen?
I am happy to make that commitment. I totally agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of the Gulf Co-operation Council states. I agree also that we still have a lot of influence and many friends across the region and that our voice is still listened to. We have an obligation to use that influence as wisely as we can.
There have been serious allegations in recent days that individuals who were potentially involved in this incident have been in and out of Government buildings here, including this place. I can confirm one, as one of the individuals met me to put pressure on me because I had been critical of Saudi policy on Yemen. What does the Foreign Secretary have to say about these allegations, and will he be changing his public or private advice to Members of this House, journalists or members of the public about travel to Saudi Arabia or entry into any of their consulates or embassies in any other country—or, indeed, in this country?
We keep our travel advice constantly under review. For example, I have recently changed the travel advice for dual nationals going to Iran. If we think there are heightened risks, we will say so. We are aware that some of the individuals who have been talked about in the press may have visited the United Kingdom when the Crown Prince came for his official visit, and we are looking carefully into what activities they undertook.
May I endorse the words of the Foreign Secretary in his statement and urge him to put pressure on the Saudis, first to make sure that the body of Jamal Khashoggi is found promptly and that the man is laid to rest, and secondly so that our Saudi colleagues know fine well that under no circumstances can this behaviour be tolerated? Freedom of the press, if it is to mean anything, must be something that the Saudis demonstrate forthwith as part of a meaningful move forward.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on all those points. I would add that part of the reason for the strategic partnership we have with Saudi Arabia is stopping brutality by Daesh and other terrorist organisations, which is why it is of particular concern when there are reports that the Saudi state itself may have been involved in such brutality. That is why we have to get the bottom of this.
Just as it would be perverse for the Kremlin to investigate MH17 or the Salisbury incident, it would be utterly perverse for the House of Saud to have its fingerprints anywhere near this investigation. Although I would like to see the Foreign Secretary introduce an arms embargo, I welcome his announcement about the Trade Secretary not attending the upcoming summit in Saudi Arabia. Will he confirm that it will not just be Ministers who will not be going but that there will not be one official from any Department in London or from any of our embassies around the world?
We have made the decision about the Trade Secretary. We are looking at the issue of the attendance of other British officials and we will make a final decision shortly, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I think it is highly unlikely.
First, let me express my absolute revulsion over this incident. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must avoid grandstanding until we know the full facts of what occurred? Any journalist, including Mr Khashoggi himself, who was such a great campaigner for freedom of speech, would understand that this is essential. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that and does he agree that, as and when necessary, we will use our influence and we will act?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The issue here is that in this country we support due process, which is what the reports suggest is absolutely what did not happen in the case of Mr Khashoggi. We must be true to our principles; we need to wait until this investigation is complete and then we need to support proper due process for anyone who was responsible for his terrible murder.
Germany has halted arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Secretary of State prefers to wait. Is he suggesting that there is some way in which Mr Khashoggi could have met his death in the embassy that would be acceptable to him, and will he accept that whatever the result of the investigation, responsibility for the murder must lie with the autocratic ruler of what has now been shown to be a murderous state?
I have made it very clear that we need to find out who was ultimately responsible for happened and act accordingly, but on the question about arms sales, I think the hon. Lady is misrepresenting the approach we have in this country, which, as I mentioned earlier, was set up by Robin Cook, a Labour Foreign Secretary. In the past few years, we have suspended or revoked licences for arms sales to Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In 2015 alone, we refused 331 licences. We have one of the strictest regimes in the world, and we will follow the proper processes that we have in place in the case of Saudi Arabia as well.
The idea that a man walked into the Saudi embassy and did not walk out while his wife was outside is simply appalling, and the accounts we have heard lack credibility. I have said in this place before that I was glad to see what seemed to be progress on women’s rights and opportunities in Saudi, but this is not the sort of behaviour that we can accept from an ally. May I support my right hon. Friend’s demand for a robust account of what happened and his plan to take robust action?
Absolutely—we will be extremely robust if these reports turn out to be true.
This hideous crime took place in a Saudi embassy on Turkish soil. They are two countries known for imprisoning journalists regularly with impunity. The Foreign Secretary and his Government have so far refused even to countenance the suspension of arms sales to either Saudi Arabia or, indeed, any country like Turkey. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House whether he prioritises human rights or arms sales?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is creating a totally false dichotomy. We have a proper, established, robust and thorough regime that is designed to make sure that we do not sell arms to countries where there is a clear risk of breaches of international humanitarian law. That applies to countries such as Saudi Arabia as well as lots of countries to which we could sell arms but to which we do not, because that clear risk exists. At the same time, when we look at the representations made by British ambassadors and British Ministers all over the world and at the fact we have the third largest development budget in the world, I think that it is hard to find a country that does more on human rights, but the point is that we have to do both.
I was lucky enough to meet the Turkish Foreign Minister some 10 days ago as details were emerging of this horrific event, and he was visibly and viscerally upset by what he was being told, of which we of course do not yet know the full facts. I welcome the measured tones of the Foreign Secretary’s statement, but does he have any timescale in mind for the investigation that will take place in Turkey, and has he offered full assistance to the Turks?
I, too, had a long conversation with Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, and I echo what my hon. Friend has said; I think he was deeply personally shocked by the story. I do not think that the investigation will take a long time to conclude. All the suggestions are that it might even conclude in a matter of days. That is very important, because we need to start proper accountability through the judicial system for the people who were responsible for this terrible crime.
UNESCO reports that nine out of 10 killings of journalists go unpunished. The Foreign Secretary’s commitment to hold Saudi to account is undermined by his Government’s choosing expediency over honour and sending UK officials, diplomats, to Riyadh this week. Will he give credibility to his commitment to justice and support the call by the International Federation of Journalists for a UN convention on the safety of journalists and media professionals?
I completely reject the hon. Lady’s suggestion that we are choosing expediency. As I said in answer to the last question, I do not think any country does more than we do to champion human rights in every corner of the globe. We do that sometimes at commercial cost and often at diplomatic cost, but we do it differently in different countries. With countries such as China, if we were to raise such issues publicly, we would just lose access to the people who can make a difference. There are other countries where we raise such issues more publicly. The question is whether we raise them, and we do. The idea of a UN convention could be very interesting, and I will certainly look at it.
How stable is the Saudi regime?
That is a question that I would not want to answer in a hurry at the Dispatch Box, but I echo the answer I gave to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee: autocratic regimes are inherently less stable.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about the fear that is felt by journalists around the world. In the Council of Europe, the platform to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists identifies 126 journalists who are detained across member states of the Council of Europe. The committee of Ministers stresses that the law should provide for aggravated penalties to be applicable to public officials who act in a way that prevents or obstructs investigations. The Secretary of State has spoken about the rules-based order. Is it not the case that we can do far more with friends and closer friends? Is it not our duty to do so, and to do so loudly, so that others hear us say that journalists and freedom of speech must be protected?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am very concerned about that growing trend. Of particular concern to me is the increasing sense among autocratic regimes that they can take this kind of action with impunity. This is not something on which Britain can act alone, so we need to build an international consensus with our democratic friends across the world. We need to say that such actions are unacceptable not just in our countries but anywhere in the world, and we need to use every bit of influence we have to enact that.
I listened to the Foreign Secretary’s statement with care. Could he explain further to the House how collaboration with France and Germany has worked in this instance? It shows that despite the fact that we are going through quite tortuous negotiations to do with leaving the European Union, on issues of common cause, such as the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, we can find friendship and close collaboration with our European friends and partners.
That is an important question, which is, in a way, linked to the previous statement we had from the Prime Minister. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that such incidents remind us and our EU friends of the importance of our ongoing diplomatic partnership and friendship with Europeans. In such an instance of human rights violations, it is easy for the country responsible to start picking off people who say things that it does not like. That is why standing side by side with others—not just Germany and France but, I am sure, in this case, the United States—is a very important tool to have in one’s diplomatic armoury.
The integrity of the rules-based international system relies on red lines and on consequences for breaching those red lines. What has happened to Jamal Khashoggi should be a red line, but so should the bombing of a bus full of children in Yemen, and so should the detention of the Lebanese Prime Minister.
If, as appears to be the case today, the Foreign Secretary is not yet willing to put forward a UN resolution, as the shadow Foreign Secretary has suggested; if he is not willing to call for an independent investigation, as the shadow Foreign Secretary has suggested; and if he is not willing to put in place the immediate suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as the shadow Foreign Secretary has suggested, will he at the very least make sure that not a single Minister or a single official goes to that conference, which has been dubbed “Davos in the desert”? If the Foreign Secretary sends British officials to the conference in such circumstances, all the words that we have heard today—Labour Members welcome them—will ring hollow, and he will send a message to every tyranny in the world that they can do what they like, because there will be no consequences from the democracies of this world.
The hon. Gentleman is somewhat misrepresenting the Government’s position. In answer to an earlier question, I said that it was highly unlikely that any British official would be attending, and we are reviewing the position at the moment. We have already said that the Trade Secretary will not be going. If we are to have red lines, they have to be credible and they have to be based on evidence. We cannot make decisions when an investigation has not yet been completed. That is against due process, and it would not be the right thing to do. We have to allow the investigation to happen and the full facts to emerge before we take our decision.
I welcome the joint statement between ourselves, France and Germany, showing a united front on what could be an appalling crime. What further steps is the Foreign Secretary planning to take in the international community to ensure that we get the answers we need?
First, we have made it clear in our regular contact with the Saudi authorities that there has to be a proper independent investigation and a credible explanation from Saudi Arabia of what happened, and we do not believe that we have had that to date. Secondly, when the facts emerge and when they have been confirmed, we will make a judgment with our allies about the appropriate thing to do. We have had lots of suggestions today of things that we could do, and we will make a considered response. I think that we have been very clear that that response will be commensurate with the scale of what has happened.
CNN is reporting today, based on CCTV obtained from Turkish security, that a member of the assassination squad walked around Istanbul in Jamal Khashoggi’s clothes after he was killed, in an attempt to show that he left the consulate alive. That shows a level of co-ordination that must have come from the top, and I do not know how much more evidence the Foreign Secretary needs to be persuaded of that. When he is persuaded, will one of the steps that he considers be to suspend diplomatic relations with what is increasingly seen as a bandit regime?
If the hon. Gentleman were in my shoes, he would not be announcing the actions that the United Kingdom would be taking until the proper investigation had been completed. I read the same media reports as the hon. Gentleman does, and when I see the stories of a body double of Khashoggi walking around the streets of Istanbul even though his fiancée waited outside the consulate for 11 hours for him to come out, it suggests to me that the story we are getting from Saudi Arabia is not yet credible. If we are to continue this strategic partnership, we need a credible explanation for what happened and we need to see the results of that investigation. I could not have been clearer: we will take serious action if these stories turn out to be true.
We need to encourage liberal internal reforms in Saudi Arabia, and we need Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against the spread of Iranian-backed terrorist proxies across the middle east, but how can we persuade an absolute monarchy that political assassination is not a legitimate tool of government?
That is a very thoughtful question, and I think the answer is that all absolute monarchs feel somewhat insecure about their position. The way to increase their sense of security is to go down the path of reform, because that is what creates social stability, which in the end makes countries and their populations more stable. That is what we need to encourage.
As has been alluded to, this is not the first time that critics of the Crown Prince have been attacked. In September, a Saudi human rights activist who sought refuge in the UK—in London—was attacked in Knightsbridge, allegedly by Saudi forces, after his location was revealed on social media. In such circumstances, what is the Secretary of State doing to protect citizens and defend freedom of speech in the United Kingdom, which is particularly critical of Saudi Arabia?
We have some of the toughest laws in the world to defend freedom of speech in this country. We will always do what it takes to defend that, and the independence of our press is the most powerful weapon we have in that respect. We are looking at all these issues and I want to reassure the hon. Lady that, when it comes to media freedom, we recognise that there is a pattern of wrongdoing here, and we are very concerned about it.
First they said that Jamal Khashoggi had left the consulate alive. Then they said that he had died in a fight. While of course it is right to listen to the third explanation from the Saudi authorities, does my right hon. Friend agree that the credibility of those explanations has been seriously undermined by their decision to publish what is manifestly implausible?
I absolutely agree. Until we get to a place where the Saudi authorities are giving an explanation that they can corroborate and that is consistent with the evidence from other sources, people will continue to ask the questions that my hon. Friend is asking, and we will continue to not feel that we can have confidence that the Saudi authorities understand the gravity of what has happened and will truly make sure that it never happens again.
Many of us recognise the important strategic and economic relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia but simultaneously believe that its actions in recent months have simply put them beyond the pale. While of course we will allow the Turks to investigate what happened on their land, will the Foreign Secretary say that there is no credibility whatsoever to the suggestion that a 15-man hit squad came from Saudi Arabia and took part in the things that we have heard about but had no links back to Mohammed bin Salman?
The hon. Gentleman is making the point that many hon. Members have made, which is that the explanations we have had from Saudi Arabia about what happened lack credibility. It is vital that this changes. The world needs to know what is happening, and if the world is to have confidence that Saudi Arabia is reforming and that these kinds of things will never happen again, we need to see a different approach.
I declare an interest, as per the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: from March 2016 to January 2018, I advised the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies, an independent think-tank and non-governmental organisation.
All those involved in the callous, brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi have to be held accountable at every level. One way to do that would be for the United Kingdom to call for an independent investigation at the United Nations, as was done following the murder of Rafic Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, and in the case of Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, with whom I worked for eight years before coming to this place.
What we have seen from the Government of Saudi Arabia is pathetic, inconsistent explanation after explanation. The Foreign Secretary talks about consequences, and I urge him to ensure that the consequences are firm and decisive at every level, otherwise we get into the concept of “might is right”, which leads to anarchy and chaos. I welcome his statement.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have to see what the outcome of this investigation is. If it is not credible or consistent with the facts on the ground, the avenues that he suggests may well be worth exploring.
The Secretary of State will be aware that his own Department has criticised Turkish authorities in the past, based on their human rights record. Can he tell us a bit more about what discussions are taking place between his Department and the Turkish authorities on this investigation? Will he commit to meet the International Federation of Journalists, as others have suggested, to talk about a United Nations convention on protecting journalists? It is unacceptable that one in 10 killings of journalists ends up with a prosecution.
We have had extensive discussions with the Turkish authorities about their investigation, and we are encouraged that they think it will only be a matter of a few days before the full results are announced. I would be happy to meet the International Federation of Journalists.
The Foreign Secretary is correct to say that the full facts of this barbaric murder have not emerged yet, but key facts have emerged. It seems utterly implausible that the top forensic pathologist from Saudi Arabia is dispatched, equipped with a bone saw, when this is something to do with a fist fight. I was also shocked to learn that that named individual who visited the consulate in Istanbul was a graduate of Glasgow University, which raises questions about the unhealthy relationship between higher education institutions in this country and Saudi Arabia. Will the Foreign Secretary consider calling on Glasgow University to strip this barbarian of his degree in the first instance?
I am sure that the university will consider doing exactly that if he is found responsible for the crimes that are being alleged, but obviously that would be a matter for the university. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point; he is saying what many hon. Members have said, which is that the accounts we have heard from Saudi Arabia as to why this happened do not seem to match the facts on the ground.
Will the Secretary of State correct the record? I think he misspoke earlier when he said that the coalition Government had strengthened arms controls. The Committees on Arms Export Controls said in 2014 that there was a “substantive weakening” of the controls, and the Government themselves said that there was no material change.
The Foreign Secretary referred in his statement to the judicial review of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The review said that the CAEC conducted the independent scrutiny, but the Secretary of State for International Trade refused to attend CAEC hearings last year. Will he attend CAEC hearings this year? The Foreign Secretary himself has said that the Saudi investigation into this murder is not credible, so why do the Saudis investigate their own war crimes in Yemen? Will the Foreign Secretary now demand a UN investigation into this rogue state? Will he also acknowledge that security information from this state is rarely useful, as a senior civil servant said today on the radio, and that we should suspend co-operation in that area?
It is for the Home Office to make its assessment of the usefulness of the counter-terrorism intelligence-sharing relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia. All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that the information I have had is that it is important. With respect to his other comments, I was telling the House what I have been informed in my briefing notes by the Foreign Office, but I am happy to write to him to explain why I said what I said.