EXCL Tory committee chief in ‘raw economics’ foreign policy warning amid Saudi arms sales row

Posted On: 
26th October 2017

The Tory chair of a powerful Commons committee has said Britain must put values above "raw economics" in foreign policy, as the row over arms sales to Saudi Arabia continues to escalate.

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat
Credit: 
Paul Heartfield

Foreign Affairs Select Committee boss Tom Tugendhat said British foreign policy should not be “exclusively economic”, but instead underpinned by British law and principles.

It comes as human rights campaigners today rounded on Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, after he said MPs’ criticism of Saudi Arabia was hampering Britain’s ability to sell the Kingdom fighter jets.

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In an exclusive interview earlier this week with the House magazine, the Tory MP said that while the UK should not conduct foreign policy that “damages” economic growth at home, seeking to boost employment should not be the sole focus.

"The fundamental underpinning of our economy is the value that people place on Britain as a fair place to do business, on British law and values being fair, whether that be accountancy, whether that be legal services, whether that be finance,” he said.

“You’re not going to get expropriated by a rapacious government if you put your money in a British bank. You can’t say that for every country in the world and that sets us apart.

“Therefore, we’ve got to be careful when we make foreign policy that we recognise that we’ve got to defend those values abroad above simple raw economics in a very blunt system."

Mr Tugendhat added: “Employment matters in the UK, of course it does, and we certainly shouldn’t conduct foreign policy that damages our ability to promote economic growth in the UK.

“But our foreign policy shouldn’t be exclusively economic, and the reason I say that is because funnily enough by recognising these other things, by recognising rights, by recognising the rule of law, I think we put ourselves into a much stronger position for our own country to grow better." 

When asked about the sale of UK arms to Saudi Arabia, which has faced global condemnation for its intensive bombing campaign of Yemen, he replied:

"I certainly don’t think it’s wrong to sell arms. But we must be realistic as to what we’re doing when we do sell arms. And part of that has to be within a context of, as I say, a rules-based system,” he said.

"Saudi Arabia has caused some issues for us in that, and other nations have to. But it's certainly not wrong to enable countries to defend themselves."

Speaking to MPs on the Defence Committee yesterday, Mr Fallon was quizzed on delays in selling the Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Saudi Arabia – which is currently being negotiated by manufacturer BAE and UK ministers.

When pressed on the uncertainty of the defence manufacturing sector in the UK, Mr Fallon responded that while he had travelled to Jeddah in September to discuss it with his Saudi counterpart he had yet to sell the typhoon jets.

"I travelled to Saudi Arabia back in September and discussed progress on the deal with my opposite number, the Crown Prince, and pushed for a statement of intent, as we've had with Qatar," he told MPs at the Defence Committee.

He added: “I have to repeat, sadly, to this committee that obviously other criticism of Saudi Arabia in this parliament is not helpful and ... I’ll leave it there.

“But we need to do everything possible to encourage Saudi Arabia towards batch two. I believe they will commit to batch two.”

A spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, Andrew Smith branded the Defence Secretary’s comments “disgraceful.”