The row over Boris’s clumsy intervention over ” proxy wars ” and ” puppeteering ” by Saudi Arabia in the brutal war in Yemen has somewhat obscured what Britain is really up to in the Middle East.
The full textof Boris Johnson’s speech to his Arab audience on Bahraon released by the Foreign Office at the weekend reveals that we are going to be spending vast sums of public money propping up the undemocratic and inhumane regimes run by wealthy Arab Sheikhs in return for their investment in Britain. We are reviving plans for a world military role ” East of Suez”.
All this at a time when Theresa May is committed to retaining austerity at home well after 2020 with all that entails in cuts to disabled benefits, social care , public services and restricting the growth of the NHS.
Boris began his speech by boasting how his new foreign policy overturned Harold Wilson’s 1968 Labour Cabinet decision to withdraw Britain’s troops from Borneo,Singapore and the Middle East. He showed extraordinary affinity for the then foreign secretary, George Brown, who like Boris, was a very colourful figure once found in the gutter after a particularly hard night’s drinking..
He described his decision as ” a triumphant vindication” for the ” brilliant “George Brown over Europhile Roy Jenkins who with a ” frog like beam ” was determined to get Britain into Europe ( how Brexiteers love to damn Europhiles even way back to 1968!).
But it was the picture he drew for Britain’s future role for” centuries to come ” that was the most revealing.
He pledged that Britain would be involved in any future crisis in Gulf – which given the present volatile situation is no mean commitment.
As he put it “:any crisis in the Gulf is a crisis for Britain – from day one; that your security is our security ” and that ” your interests military, economic, political – are intertwined with our own..”
He goes on to cite the billions Britain is spending for new military engagements in the Middle East.
This includes:Reopening HMS Jufair, a naval support facility in Bahrain, which His Majesty the King of Bahrain,Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said he remembered from his childhood before our disengagement.
Basing Britain’s Gulf Defence Staff in Dubai.
Developing the Al-Minhad air base in the United Arab Emirates providing a hub for the RAF.
Establishing a Regional Land Training centre for the British army – one of only four in the world.
As Boris put it : “Britain has in total 1,500 military personnel in the region and 7 warships, more than any other Western nation apart from the US. We are spending £3 billion on our military commitments in the Gulf over the next 10 years and that is deepening a partnership that is stronger than with any other group of nations in the world outside NATO.”
So what is the pay back.?So much Arab money is pouring into London that the city is becoming a Gulf owned state. Boris named the capital as the 8th Emirate.
As he put it : “London is sometimes called the eighth Emirate. I think I may have made that up myself, but we’re proud of it.”
And he detailed how much retail estate is owned by Gulf states in London.
The Qataris own The Shard, Olympic Village,Harrods, and Chelsea Barracks.
The UAE owns the Excel exhibition centre in Docklands and the Tidal Array in the Thames Estuary . And there is the Emirates cable car across the Thames.
The Gulf states own the DP World Port. which has replaced London Docklands.
And even City Hall the seat of London government is owned by Kuwait.
As Boris said :” I didn’t know it until today but I’m stunned to find out.”.
Of course the foreign secretary stated that Britain gains from exports to the Middle East – from Marks and Spencer to military equipment and even sand for golf bunkers.
However after Britain’s bruising encounter in Iraq it seems the Tories are rapidly becoming the main defenders of a group of very wealthy Arabs – all of whom ( it has happened already) could face uprisings in the future from their own people.
Britain would have to defend them or see large swathes of the capital being owned by the very people who have overthrown them or if there is war – by another country.
I am not sure how keen the British people will be to get involved – but for the Tories ( although they were careful not to say it) it has smacks of returning to the glory days of Empire and Rule Britannia. That could be a very big mistake.