Time to Take a Stand

Redha Rubaie is Secretary of the Association and a second year PPEist at Corpus Christi

To say that I am not the greatest fan of Boris Johnson is probably a major understatement. To my mind, he took public service and turned it into a stand up sketch designed solely with the purpose of installing himself into Number 10. He quite obviously sees a lot of Winston Churchill in himself, yet provides little evidence of the moral conviction and courage that was displayed by the latter. Indeed, it would not be overly unfair to describe his conduct in the EU referendum as demagogic . That he was deemed fit to hold one of the great Offices of State is, to my mind, unfathomable.

Yet now I find myself coming to his defence. This is with reference to the recent comments that he made regarding the conduct of the Saudi government in the Middle East. Many party grandees, including Sir Malcolm Rifkind, have suggested that the comments regarding 'proxy wars' was inappropriate for a Foreign Secretary to make and that he may well be better suited to another Cabinet position instead. Indeed, Number 10 themselves decided to issue a formal statement distancing themselves from the comments made by Mr Johnson. However, as someone who takes a passing interest in Foreign Affairs, it is refreshing to see that someone in a position of power is being honest with the shortcomings of Saudi Arabia.

The negative response by many Conservatives would be that this is not the done thing in the field of global relations. It is an embarrassment to Britain as a nation if we are to speak in disparaging terms of our allies. It assumes that criticism is the equivalent of creating distance, and that the British national interest is harmed by the kind of ideological comments made by the likes of the Foreign Secretary. This seems to me to be a complete obfuscation of the reality. For too long, we as a nation have been too willing to unreservedly back our friends on the global stage. This is not to say that I believe in isolationism. If anything, I believe in more global engagement and not less. But part of global engagement should seek to address some of the issues perpetuated by the old guard view of Foreign Affairs.

Frankly, there are a lot of things which Saudi Arabia does that Britain ought to find repulsive. It is a nation which has very little regard for civil liberties for women. They have a theocratic legal system for which there is no opt out. It is a nation which is more than willing to flog those who show dissent to the prevalent opinions of the age. It has the kind of archaic political structure which could be charitably described as dated. This is before even engaging with the issues of sectarian violence. A Washington Institute report from 2014 found that, 'Riyadh has taken pleasure in ... ISIS-led Sunni advances against Iraq's Shiite government'. It seems that the Saudi government is nowhere near progressive enough in the way it views regional affairs to commit to that which many in the world not to see. Peace. This is not to say that the Saudis should be sidelined. They are a vital partner in the fight against non-state actors which threaten so many lives across the world. But they must face criticism for that which they are complicit in, even if it is seen as an inconvenient truth.

There needs to be a fundamental rethink in how the right approaches foreign policy. There shouldn't be a fear of rocking the boat or being honest when allies fall short of the expectations that we have of them. It is of the highest importance that we recognise the increasing importance of the global interest in preserving the national interest. Ultimately, one feels that the right needs to back the values that it has more, not less. We need to trumpet the rule of law and personal freedoms, both at home and abroad. We shall be far more effective at deploying our unrivalled soft power if there is a commitment to the global community, and that Britain can convincingly turn to the rest of the world and prove it has a commitment to improving the livelihoods of as many as possible. There is always a need to be pragmatic, for sure. But this pragmatism ought to be grounded far more firmly in the values that we cherish than seems to be the case at the moment.