Controversy over UK Inquiry as ‘secret evidence’ revealed

Handover of of 6 advanced jet trainers from BAE to Bahrain in 2006

Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) have condemned the UK Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry into UK relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, after revealing that arms company, BAE Systems, has submitted ‘secret evidence’ to the inquiry.

In a letter to the Committee Chair, CAAT described the decision as reinforcing “the impression that the proceedings of the inquiry are less than transparent.” Adding, “The views of a company with the pivotal role in the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia were heard in private. It would be good if the Committee could publish the minutes of the BAE meeting.”

Their complaint refers to an informal meeting between Sir Sherard Cowper Coles and Bob Keen, of BAE Systems, with members of the Committee. In response, Committee Chair, Richard Ottaway MP, said it was “frustrating” that neither were prepared to give public evidence, although “the Committee judged that it was better to hear from Sir Sherard informally than not at all.”

Last week BAE announced that they were in talks with Bahrain who are interested in purchasing a number of their Typhoon Eurofighter Jets.

In June, CAAT had already raised concerns about the appointment of Sir William Patey, UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2007-2010, as a Special Advisor to the Committee’s inquiry. In a separate letter to the Committee they said, “As a recent former ambassador Sir William has been closely involved in implementing the current policy with regards to Saudi Arabia, policy that has remained the same for decades. In consequence, he could not be expected to approach the inquiry in a disinterested and questioning manner.”

Richard Ottaway MP replied by dismissing the role of the Special Advisor, with the committee “free to take or reject his advice.”

The inquiry was announced in October 2012, sparking anger from Saudi Arabia, and began evidence sessions in early 2013. It is due to publish its report later this year.

Speaking to BJDM, CAAT insisted that it “still has hopes of the FAC enquiry and we don’t want to place undue blame on them – rather BAE and the arms industry influence.” However in their letter to the Committee regarding to the appointment of the Special Advisor they noted, “CAAT had hoped this inquiry would fully examine the issue, but feels the opportunity is in danger of being missed as the views of those challenging the current relationship are side-lined.”

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