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Bahrain — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 11th September 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 9:30 am, 11th September 2018

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Her position as chair of the APPG is an onerous task, as the group covers not just Bahrain but other Gulf countries. I held that position in an early incarnation of the group—the all-party group for democracy in Bahrain. My hon. Friend does an excellent job, and I will come on to the matter she mentions.

I would like this debate to shine a light on the continuing human rights abuses in Bahrain, specifically to gainsay their whitewashing by the regime, its paid apologists—the Bahraini Government often contract dozens of public relations and other companies in the UK to spread their message—and its political supporters. I also wish specifically to question the UK Government’s role, deliberate or otherwise, in sanitising the regime’s behaviour.

When the Prime Minister addressed the leaders of the Gulf Co-operation Council nations in December 2016, she noted the importance of UK-Gulf trade and security co-operation and advocated a strong UK role as the Gulf’s partner of choice, embedding international norms and seeing through reform. Indeed, as UK security co-operation and arms sales to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have increased, so too have statements from the FCO and other parts of Government that they wish to see human rights reforms in Gulf monarchies, starting from what is a very low base.

That has been especially true in Bahrain, where the UK Government have strong military, defence and trade co-operation, including a recently opened naval base, a history of offering military training and substantial arms sales. In addition, the UK has spent more than £5 million since 2012 on a package of technical assistance, which it specifically claims is to improve Bahrain’s poor human rights record. The FCO has funded training for various arms of the Bahraini Government, including the Ministry of Interior, police officers, prison guards and the public prosecution office. The pursuit of human rights reform in Bahrain is certainly an important goal, but the evidence suggests that the UK’s reform efforts in the country, spanning six years and costing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, have failed.