Strong, stable and secure – or weak, wobbly and dangerous? Theresa May has spent much of the election campaign presenting herself as a safe pair of hands. However, in the wake of three terrorist attacks on British soil in as many months, it is time that the Prime Minister – and former Home Secretary – was treated to the same scrutiny as Jeremy Corbyn over her record on security and defence.
Defending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, knowing they would be used on civilians
Since the Saudi-led coalition bombing of Yemen began, the UK government has exported over £3.3billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, as well as sending British military advisors to assist in bombing raids. These weapons have been used to kill over 10,000 people in Yemen, one third of them civilians. A UN inquiry found that “in eight of the ten investigations, the panel found no evidence that the air strikes had targeted legitimate military objectives” therefore “the attacks may amount to war crimes.”
Theresa May was challenged by Jeremy Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Questions to end arm sales to Saudi Arabia after the bombing of international hospitals and schools (after all, knowingly selling weapons to states that commit war crimes is a breach of both British and international law). The Prime Minister strongly defended the sales of weapons, insisting that our close military relationship with Saudi Arabia “keeps people on the streets of Britain safe”. It remains to be seen whether the 3 million Yemeni refugees fleeing the British-made cluster bombs agree with her.
Remaining silent while Saudi Arabia funds terror groups
But exactly how safe is our military alliance with Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia remains arguably the most prolific state sponsor of international Islamist terrorism; funding a variety of Islamist groups including the Taliban (Afghanistan), Al Qaeda (Iraq), and the Al-Nusra Front (Syria). The Wahhabist-Salafist jihadi ideology promoted by The Kingdom is also shared by ISIS, who have around 2,500 Saudis in their ranks. A leaked White House memo from 2010 shows that then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton referred to Saudi as the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.
The Pakistani militant group that carried out the 2008 Mumbai bombings were funded by Saudi Arabia, and enjoyed an annual budget of $5.25million. According to studies, most suicide bombers in Iraq are Saudis. Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers responsible for 9/11 originated from Saudi Arabia (as well as Osama bin Laden himself). In 2016, relatives of 9/11 victims tried to use US courts to hold Saudi royals, banks, or charities responsible for funding the attackers. However, in March that year, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir threatened to sell $750billion worth of American assets owned by Saudi Arabia unless Obama’s government amended laws giving foreign governments immunity from prosecution for terror acts.
As Prime Minister, Theresa May will be privy to this information and much more. Yet, she continues to defend our “military partnership” with funders of international terrorism.
Allowing Saudi Arabia to radicalise British youth
Since 1975, Saudi Arabia are thought to have spent more than $126billion spreading radical Islamism around the world – mainly in undeveloped nations where educational resources are scarce. The interpretation promoted by this funding is an extremist Wahhabi-Salafism. It preaches that Muslims should hate ’infidels’ (including non-Wahhabi Muslims) for their religion, and fight them by any means necessary. It also claims “democracy is responsible for all the horrible wars of the 20th century”. Agents of the Saudi government distribute propaganda to a quarter of UK mosques. The content of this material includes calls to burn and stone to death homosexuals, adulterers and apostates. These mosques have become a breeding ground for radical Islamism.
In addition to funding their propaganda in Britain, some Saudi universities reserve 85% of their places for foreign students, resulting in hundreds of British graduates who have returned to the UK with newly found hard-line Islamist views. Jamaican-born Sheikh Abdullah el-Faisal, who had studied at a Riyadh University for seven years, was caught on tape saying “You can use chemical weapons to exterminate the unbelievers. Is that clear? If you have cockroaches in your house, you spray them with chemicals.” Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 bombers, was among his followers.
After the vote to extend airstrikes in Syria, both The Liberal Democrats and Labour pushed for an enquiry into overseas funding of extremism in the UK. However, Theresa May – in both the Home Office and Downing Street – has suppressed the report’s findings.
Suppressing the investigation into the foreign funding of British jihadis
While Theresa May was Home Secretary, The Home Office’s Extremism Analysis Unit had been directed by David Cameron to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK – with a focus on Saudi Arabia. The findings of the report were to be shown to Theresa May directly. However, 18 months later, the Home Office confirmed the report would not necessarily be published, calling the contents “very sensitive”.
Since reading the report, and suppressing its publication, Theresa May visited Saudi Arabia and hailed our “important relationship” with the Kingdom. She told the BBC: “In terms of trade and security, the Saudi’s co-operation with us has helped to save lives in the UK.” So why did Theresa May choose to suppress the report?
During his time as Prime Minister, Tony Blair instructed the Serious Fraud Office to investigate the head of the Saudi National Security Council, Prince Bandar. Bandar had allegedly received more than £1billion in illegal bribes from the British weapons manufacturer BAE Systems to help grease the wheels on a potential arms deal. Previously classified files reveal that investigators were told by the House Of Saud that they faced “another 7/7” and the loss of “British lives on British streets” if they continued with inquires. The investigation was subsequently cancelled, against the will of the prosecutor who was directing the enquiry.
Theresa May could be so weak that she will not protect the public from extremist funding in the UK out of fear of Saudi retaliation. Or, are her vested interests with the Kingdom influencing her judgement?
Personal benefits from Saud
While Conservative politicians have defended arms sales to Saudi Arabia as a part of Britain’s Post-Brexit global strategy, Tory members of Parliament have collected £99,396 in gifts, travel expenses, and consulting fees from the House Of Saud since the Yemen war began. Philip Hammond, whilst Foreign Secretary, justified the public execution of Saudi political protestors by saying “let’s be clear – these people were terrorists”. Hammond’s loyalty was handsomely rewarded. He received a watch worth £1,950 as a gift from the Saudi Ambassador.
Ms. May, however, has much deeper and more lucrative financial links to the Saudis. Her husband, Philip, is a senior executive for Capital Group – one of the world’s most powerful financial institutions – which controls over $1.4trillion in assets. The group owns shares in several large corporations, including airlines (Ryanair), arms dealers (Lockheed Martin), tobacco giants (Philip Morris), pharmaceutical companies (Merck & Co) and tax dodgers (Amazon and Starbucks).
After the Mays moved into No. 10, Capital Group announced a new investment initiative with HSBC. Three months later, Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, Aramco, revealed plans to sell off 5% of its oil shares. Officials valued “the largest public offering of all time” at $2trillion. In April 2017, Theresa May travelled to Saudi Arabia, along with the CEO of the London Stock Exchange, and met with the chair of Aramco, and Saudi energy minister, Khalid Al-Falih. Nineteen days after the meeting, it was announced that HSBC had been “formally mandated” as an advisor on the sale.
The deal, which represents a conflict of interest for the Mays, has lead to questions regarding whether personal financial interests are clouding the Prime Minister’s judgement of domestic and foreign policy. A video posted online shows a former HSBC whistleblower attempting to raise the issue at a hustings in Amber Rudd’s constituency – but he is promptly censored by the Home Secretary.
Consistently voting for military interventions, and unwilling to rule out joining war in Syria
Although, it may be unfair to suggest that the Prime Minister’s foreign policy is motivated entirely by her cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia. After all, as an opposition MP, she voted for the Iraq War in all five Parliamentary votes on the motion. As a cabinet minister, she also voted for the continued deployment of troops in Afghanistan, and voted all three times for airstrikes in Syria. She has a pretty consistent record of supporting British military interventions abroad.
The former head of MI5 during the 7/7 bombings said that the Iraq War “substantially [and] undoubtedly increased” the level of terrorist threat. This is perhaps unsurprising. On social media, ISIS supporters claimed that the attack on the Manchester Arena was retaliation for an image of an RAF bomb bearing the message “Love From Manchester”. ISIS supporters cheered the attack on Westminster, claiming it was “revenge” for the UK’s airstrikes on Syria and Iraq. One said the UK was paying “blood for blood” for its military involvements. Another user posted: “Our battle on your land is only just beginning” next to a photoshopped image of Big Ben being blown up.
Theresa May’s enthusiasm for joining US-led military excursions is unlikely to be curbed in the immediate future. After holding hands with Donald Trump in the halls of the White House, May told a joint press conference that she was keen to strengthen military partnership with the Trump administration. Boris Johnson has claimed that the Conservatives would find it “hard to say no” to any request from President Trump to launch air strikes against the Russian-backed Assad regime; and would not necessarily seek a parliamentary vote before doing so. When pressed on the matter by journalists at a campaign event in Leeds, the Prime Minister refused to answer three direct questions on whether she would join future US-led airstrikes.
It seems likely that Theresa May’s foreign policy will be decided in Washington, with dire consequences for the people on the streets of the UK.
Helping known terror suspects in and out of the UK, including the Manchester bomber
The suicide bomber behind the Manchester Arena attack, Salman Abedi, was part of a Wahabbi-Salafist organisation called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) – an offshoot of the Saudi-funded Al-Qaeda. They seek a “hard-line Islamic state” in Libya and, since 2005, have been officially designated as a terrorist organisation in the UK (with membership punishable by 10 years in prison).
During Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary, known LIFG jihadists in Manchester were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe in order to take part in the US-and-UK-backed coup against Mu’ammar Gaddafi; and then again to join Al-Qaeda forces fighting against Pro-Assad troops in Syria. The so-called “Manchester boys” were considered high-risk, and under house arrest when anti-Gaddafi demonstrations broke out in Libya. Suddenly, Theresa May’s Home Office lifted the control orders. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said one LIFG member. The known extremists were returned their passports, and counter-terrorism police at Heathrow airport were told to let them board their flights.
Barack Obama described the Conservative government’s role in Libya as a “shit show”. NATO launched 9,700 strikes, including cluster bombs and uranium warheads, with more than a third hitting civilian targets. A high proportion of victims were under the age of ten. The power vacuum left behind after the fall of Gaddafi has now given ISIS more ground to recruit, and spread across North Africa. The attack triggered the ensuing refugee crisis, as Libya had previously been a safe haven for those fleeing conflict elsewhere in the region.
After the coup, Salman Abedi was allowed to return to Manchester. Six years later, he used the bomb-making skills he acquired in Libya to kill 22 people, and injure 58, in a suicide attack. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, helped British-based terrorists pass in and out of the UK, unhindered.
Failure to listen to community and security services
It wasn’t just Theresa May who knew that Salman Abedi was an Islamic extremist. Last year, the FBI reportedly placed Abedi on a “terrorist watch list” and warned British security services that his group was looking for a “political target” in Britain.
Abedi was reported to authorities on five separate occasions over five years, by friends who were concerned by his radical interpretation of Islam. He was also banned from Didsbury mosque in South Manchester after confronting an Imam who was delivering an anti-extremist sermon. The fact that he went undetected for so long was a total failure by the state, despite several warnings from the Muslim community.
Theresa May is completely out of touch when it comes to dealing with the threat of modern terrorism. Recent events have shown that her insistence on mass surveillance through the Investigatory Powers Act to keep us safe has clearly been ineffective and unnecessary. Her strengthening of the Prevent strategy, aimed at stopping young people becoming radicalised, has faced staunch criticism from teachers and local communities. The former independent reviewer of terror legislation claimed “Prevent is controversial, to the point where reputable community organisations refuse to engage with it”.
Her continuation of budget cuts to the public sector have exposed weaknesses in security (as shown by the cyber-security attack on the NHS earlier this year). She has also overseen vast cuts to vital community services that help to address security issues at a local level.
Cutting local police and intelligence, whilst ignoring the risks
Since Theresa May became Home Secretary in 2010, the total number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen by 46,700. Her justification for cutting back community officers so drastically was that there was no link between the number of officers and the level of crime.
In 2015, the then-Home Secretary was challenged by former community policeman of the year, Damian O’Reilly at the Police Federation’s annual conference. He claimed that her cuts had caused community policing in Greater Manchester to “collapse” adding that “intelligence has dried up” causing “a lack of proactive local policing”. O’Reilly added that “neighbourhood policing is critical in dealing with terrorism” and warned that the cuts put officers, communities and national security at risk.
Theresa May’s speech in 2015 rejected the Police Federation’s comments that her cuts would result in a “paramilitary style of policing in Britain” and that “neighbourhood police officers [were] an endangered species”. She repeatedly dismissed the demoralisation and anger amongst police officers, and told them to stop “scaremongering” and “crying wolf”.
These words will surely now haunt May after a string of recent terror attacks. Not only do they highlight the weaknesses in local intelligence but also, as the deployment of thousands of soldiers on the streets of Manchester and London showed, the severe lack of police numbers.
Misleading the public, and pushing to renew Trident, despite multiple nuclear weapons failures
In July 2016, with the Labour Party on the precipice of a second leadership battle, Theresa May pushed for a Parliamentary vote on Trident. She took advantage of a divided opposition, and the motion to spend £167billion overall on renewing the nuclear submarines was heavily carried.
However, what was not known by the public and Parliament at the time of the vote was that, less than a month before, a missile test had misfired. An anonymous senior naval source told The Sunday Times that an unarmed Trident missile fired off the coast of Florida wildly veered 5,600 miles from its target off the coast of West Africa, and instead headed towards mainland America.
“There was a major panic at the highest level of government and the military after the first test of our nuclear deterrent in four years ended in disastrous failure,” claimed the source. “Ultimately, Downing Street decided to cover up the failed test. If the information was made public, they knew how damaging it would be to the credibility of our nuclear deterrent.” When questioned by Andrew Marr if she knew anything about the missile failure before the Trident vote, Theresa May refused to answer the question four times.
Perhaps more unsettling are the revelations of Trident whistleblower William McNeilly. The former Royal Navy submarine engineer revealed in February 2016 that there were serious security concerns aboard the submarines. “All you need to get on board is a couple of fake IDs” he warned, “terrorist groups like ISIS have already shown they can produce legitimate documents… Thousands of Royal Navy IDs go missing every year as well, so they could come across one.” McNeilly also claimed that he had overseen four failed missile tests due to a failure of weight compensation resulting in the missiles being fired from an unstable platform.
Not only did the Prime Minister undoubtedly know the risks when pushing for the Trident vote, she also withheld crucial information from the public and Parliament. During the debate, she proudly exclaimed that she would happily launch a first nuclear strike against another nation. Let’s just hope it hits the right one.