Boris Johnson’s new cabinet will be too busy seeking lucrative trade deals to worry about human rights


For all his grandstanding and bombast, the new prime minister appears to have no attachment to morality

Brexiters and Remainers fight interminably about the future of these isles.

There is no time, no space to think about what will happen to our presence abroad, to soft power, our commitment to international institutions and civilized shared values developed after the last world war.

No one in cabinet seems to believe passionately in, say, civil or human rights or indeed, the importance of artistic, cultural and journalistic freedoms and creativity.

Once divorced from the EU, the government will be desperately seeking trade deals with tyrants, oppressors, populists, unabashed, brazen nasties. Ethical politics are obsolete in this wild new world.

For all his grandstanding and bombast, Boris Johnson appears to have no attachment to democracy and its fundamental elements and so we can expect him to get ever closer to Saudi Arabia, other Gulf States, China, Russia, Israel, Turkey, Syria too as it is rebuilt. ( Not tyrannical Iran, though, because Trump has declared it an enemy nation and the UK now follows Trump like a faithful pup.)

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC has just penned a report on executions in Saudi. Home Secretary Priti Patel, once an enthusiastic defender of capital punishment, should read this document. At the launch in the House of Commons, attendees were filled with shock and awe. Violent videogames turn real in this barbaric kingdom. At least 134 people have been executed this year alone. Six were children when arrested.

Another 24 are awaiting that fate and an unknown number have ‘disappeared’. Victims include journalists, academics, Shia Muslims, bloggers, dissidents, female activists and just ordinary poor folk who are picked up for no good reason. Those held are tortured, made to sign confessions, tried in secret, convicted of undefined crimes. Many languish on death row and eventually get beheaded in public squares. Their remains are not returned to families.

The journalist Jamal Khashoggi, butchered in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, has been dumped in an unknown grave. Repression has got worse since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to prominence A young Saudi female student at a London university told me: ‘The smell of blood and fear get into minds, our bodies, our clothes’.

The cover of the report has a man hosing down the blood shed liberally by a state which is rich enough to cow critics and to buy status. Most of the Gulf states are just as cruel and arrogant. Previous British governments have bent to such rulers too. But this lot will crawl on their bellies to get business contracts. Why not invite Assad on a state visit? Think of the business opportunities in that ripped and broken land.

China too will increasingly become one of the essential deliverers of post Brexit promises. So our cabinet cowboys will not mention the million Uighur Muslims interned in concentration camps and otherwise severely maltreated in north-west provinces of China.

Nor will the sainted Aung An Suu Chi be asked to account for the inhumane treatment of Muslims in Myanmar. Unethical, sinister Russia is another business partner they must now suck up to.

On to Israel. Netanyahu and his gang carry on breaking international laws, stealing land, punishing people in Palestine.

Palestinian-American writer, Susan Abulhawa, recently reminded the world of what is happening in her old homeland: ‘Israel has turned Gaza, once a great city at the intersection of trade across three continents, into a black hole of dreams. Gaza is hope’s coffin, an incinerator of human potential, and extinguisher of promise. People can barely breathe in Gaza. They cannot work, cannot leave, cannot study, cannot build, cannot heal.’

The long running, seriously mishandled row over anti-Semitism in the Labour party has given right- wingers much ammunition. It has also silenced national debates about Palestinian rights and allowed this Israeli government to do as it pleases. Now it will be further emboldened because our Brexit government needs this ally more than ever before.

Britain has always been duplicitous in its international dealings. But diplomats and ministers of all parties had some honour and noble ideals which were admired and emulated globally.

The emerging credos of this Cabinet are reductive and crude, fanatically capitalistic.

And so it ends, the good liberal order. And with it sink the least powerful here and everywhere else.


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