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The power of the urgent question indeed. This is a victory, if we believe press reports, for the Secretary of State himself, but also for the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, which has been vociferous in challenging the decision.
This is not, of course, an easy issue. The contract was being negotiated against a backdrop of a Government who have beheaded more people than Daesh, who are about to lash a British pensioner 350 times, potentially crucify a teenager and have sentenced a blogger to a slow death sentence, so I can genuinely understand why a Government would seek to involve themselves in changing how they manage the justice system. However, questions need to be asked about the whole approach to and relationship with Saudi Arabia, and about why the Government have dropped abolishing the death penalty as a priority in their international work abroad. What assistance did this Government give to the Government of Saudi Arabia so that they could chair a committee on human rights within the United Nations? Why did the British Government sanction flags flying at half-mast when the King of Saudi Arabia died—something that the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called
“a steaming pile of nonsense”?
I welcome today’s move, but this cannot be the end of our examination of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. One thing the Justice Secretary could do would be to place all papers relating to this deal in the public domain, so that Parliament can examine them retrospectively.