Human Rights in Saudi Arabia — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:25 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee 3:25 pm, 18th July 2019

That welcome intervention, if accurate—I have no reason to believe that it is not—is a powerful argument in favour of continued engagement with the regime, even though from time to time it does things that we would regard, with justification, as barbaric. That has often been the nature of international relations, and those are often the difficult choices that have to be made. To give the most extreme example, Sir Winston Churchill had a lifelong hatred of bolshevism and communism; he said at the time of the 1917 revolution that he wanted bolshevism to be strangled at birth. When he found himself in alliance with Stalin after the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, he was twitted by a political opponent who pointed out his lifelong hatred of communism. His famous reply was:

“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”

The history of diplomacy is that we often have to have relationships with unsavoury regimes in order to avoid something that would be even worse. However, having to have a relationship with a regime that does terrible things does not mean that we should go silent on criticising it. That is why I particularly welcome this debate. In some senses, it was a relief to discover that it would be more about human rights than about the arms trade. Believe me, if we had to have the same debate about the arms trade, which has been touched on slightly, we would face an infinitely more difficult dilemma. We would have to decide, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Reigate said in passing, whether it was better to wash our hands of supplying military hardware to Saudi Arabia if the consequence would be to anchor that country in the orbit of Russia or China, as the Iranian regime already is.

I conclude by commending the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland for securing the debate, and by endorsing his notion that pressure on the Saudi regime on the human rights front is one area in which we can safely express our differences without risking a rupture that we cannot afford on overall strategic grounds. I wish him well in his campaign and congratulate all those who stand up for human rights in Saudi Arabia. I hope that they, in turn, will recognise that vast geopolitical forces are and will continue to be at work in the area, and that there are no morally perfect solutions to dealing with an environment like this, in which frankly all the actors are tainted.

I have mentioned Sir Winston Churchill, but perhaps we should go back to the 19th-century concept of the balance of power, which expressed the interests of Britain by ensuring that no one power could become overwhelmingly dominant on the continent and that we did not get drawn in too closely with any power. My fear, which I have expressed before, is that in the conflicts in the middle east we are sometimes in danger of getting too closely involved with one side rather than the other. That side, I am afraid, is Saudi Arabia.