Tories fight to keep secret Saudi security deal under wraps

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May © Peter Nicholls
UK authorities are trying to block details of a secret 2014 security deal with Saudi Arabia from being made public, according to reports.

Home Secretary Theresa May is said to have signed the deal, which has been described as a “memorandum of understanding,” during an unpublicized trip to see her Saudi counterpart Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef.

No details were released at the time and the trip was never announced, according to reports. It only came to light a year later after a vague reference to Saudi Interior Ministry “reforms” was spotted in a Foreign Office report.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the Liberal Democrats has now brought the meeting out into the open. However, the Conservative government, which was in coalition with the Liberal Democrats at the time of the deal, is trying to block full disclosure.

The government says the memorandum contains “information relating to the UK’s security co-operation with Saudi Arabia.

Releasing it would “damage the UK’s bilateral relationship” with the Gulf kingdom, it claims. 

The Saudi Interior Ministry has recently passed reforms which define acts such as “calling for atheist thought” and “contacting any groups or individuals opposed to the Kingdom” as terrorism.

The ministry deals with Saudi Arabia’s public executions. Currently on death row is Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, who was arrested aged 17 and alleges he was tortured.

Deals with nations like Saudi Arabia should not be done in secret,” Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told the Independent.

Parliament should be able to hold ministers to account. It is time to shine a light onto the shady corners of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

It is time we stood up for civil liberties, human rights and not turn a blind eye because the House of Saud are our ‘allies,’” Farron added.