There was no shortage of interesting news stories in Britain today, from the on-going horror of the Ipswich murders to the official release of Lord Stevens inquiry into the death of Princess Diana (“tragic accident“), to the news that the Government intends to close 2,500 post offices. So this would be the perfect day to slip out two other stories that the Government would rather not draw too much attention to. It didn’t work; the stories are so big that they were obviously going to top the headlines.
Both these stories demonstrate the depths to which this government (and also the country) has sunk to. Firstly we have Tony Blair being the first sitting Prime Minister to be questioned by the police in connection with a criminal investigation. This is of course the cash for honours scandal in which we knew that the Prime Minister would eventually be questioned. What is surprising is that he was not questioned under caution, which implies that he is being treated as a witness rather than a suspect. This is very odd; the buck stops with the Prime Minister and Blair himself said as much when the story first broke early this year. One can only speculate that our honourable leader is leaving his friends to take the rap for him. Right in the frame is Blair’s fundraiser in chief and Middle East envoy, Lord Levy who has already been arrested, bailed and questioned under caution. I suppose it’s not so surprising that ‘Teflon Tony’ once again escapes the consequences of his actions, however his reputation is now further tarnished with sleaze. No doubt there will be further revelations as the investigation nears its conclusion. We’ve already heard that Gordon Brown, despite previous denials of having anything to to with the scandal, is in fact deeply involved. Iain Dale has some more on Blair’s defence and like Iain, I’m not convinced.
Worse than this piece of common sleaze however, is an even more disgraceful revelation which came out today, and this is the one that turned my usual disgust with New Labour into a fit of anger.
The Serious Fraud Office has ended its corruption inquiry into a £6bn fighter planes deal with Saudi Arabia.
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said the SFO was “discontinuing” its investigation into Britain’s biggest defence company, BAE Systems.
The probe had related to the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia. BAE has denied any wrongdoing.
Lord Goldsmith told the Lords he thought that a prosecution “could not be brought”.
He said the decision had been made in the wider public interest, which had to be balanced against the rule of law.
Lord Goldsmith also told peers that Prime Minister Tony Blair had agreed that the continuation of the investigation would cause “serious damage” to relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia.
This is appalling! The Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, under pressure from the Saudi government BAE Systems and, of course, Tony Blair, decides that a small matter like the law shouldn’t get in the way of huge British arms deals with Saudi Arabia and relations between the two countries. What does that say about the rule of law and British justice? Maybe I was being naive but I didn’t think that even New Labour would stoop so low as to halt an on-going corruption investigation by the Serious Fraud Office because of threats from a foreign government and fear of losing lucrative contracts. This is not so much sleaze as pure corruption. Just as galling are the reasons given for this extraordinary decision; “national security” and nothing at all to do with commercial considerations… Bullshit!
Newsnight has good analysis of the story which you can see here (for a short while).
The decision to abandon the investigation makes a mockery of Labour’s own anti-corruption legislation which is part of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001
108 Bribery and corruption: foreign officers etc.
(1) For the purposes of any common law offence of bribery it is immaterial if the functions of the person who receives or is offered a reward have no connection with the United Kingdom and are carried out in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom.
(2) In section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 (c. 34) (corrupt transactions with agents) insert this subsection after subsection (3)-
“(4) For the purposes of this Act it is immaterial if-
(a) the principal’s affairs or business have no connection with the United Kingdom and are conducted in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom;
(b) the agent’s functions have no connection with the United Kingdom and are carried out in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom.”
Once again I find myself agreeing with Iain Dale on this matter. Some of the comments on the hurried post I wrote on Blairwatch when the story broke are also worth reading. Also, check out Chicken Yoghurt and A Big Stick And A Small Carrot to get an idea of the sense of outrage over this.