Two days following the terrorist attacks in London and three days before the culmination of what has become an unexpectedly competitive election, several U.K. political leaders are demanding that a government study reportedly implicating Saudi Arabia in the spread of violent extremism be made public.
“The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the U.K. was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis,” the Guardian recently reported. “However, 18 months later, the Home Office confirmed the report had not yet been completed and said it would not necessarily be published, calling the contents ‘very sensitive.'”
Following the London attacks—and Prime Minister Theresa May’s subsequent speech, in which she argued that there is “far too much tolerance of extremism in our country”—calls for the report to be released reached a fever pitch.
“The Saudi regime has one of the most appalling human rights records in the world. If it has played any role in funding or fueling terrorism or violent groups then we must know.”
—Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn weighed in on Sunday, saying in a statement that May’s call for “difficult conversations” should be embraced, and that they should start “with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fueled extremist ideology.”
It is no good Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of extremist groups. We have to get serious about cutting off the funding to these terror networks, including ISIS, here and in the Middle East.
In an op-ed in the Guardian, Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, echoed Corbyn, arguing that any serious counter-terrorism policy “should include exposing and rooting out the source funding of terror, even it means difficult and embarrassing conversations with those such as Saudi Arabia that the government claims are our allies.”
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Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade added to the calls for transparency on Monday, telling The Independent:
Reports that the British Home Office may ultimately decide not to release the study come as “new figures released by British Parliament show that, at a time when U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s ties to Saudi Arabia have become an election issue, conservative government officials and members of Parliament were lavished with money by the oil-rich Saudi government with gifts, travel expenses, and consulting fees,” The Intercept‘s Lee Fang reported on Sunday.
And, as Fang notes, the House of Saud has consistently seen a return on their many investments, often in the form of lucrative arms deals.
As recent opinion polls have shown, the British public has a far different view of Saudi Arabia than its elected representatives: A 2016 YouGov survey found that only 37 percent of the British people believe that the U.K. should treat Saudi Arabia as an ally, while 39 percent said they should be considered an enemy.
Britons particularly dislike the fact that Saudi Arabia is a key recipient of U.K. arms. A 2017 poll found that, as the Guardian‘s Jamie Doward put it, “two-thirds of British people think selling arms to Saudi Arabia—the UK’s largest defense customer—is unacceptable.”
In recent days, Corbyn has attempted to press his advantage on this point, connecting his critique of Saudi Arabia with a broader foreign policy stance that calls for an end to arms sales to despotic regimes and rejects the policies of the so-called war on terror, which he said in a recent speech are “simply not working.”