The king of Saudi Arabia has just made his first royal visit to Britain for 20 years. Roula Khalaf reports that the Saudis were surprised by the anger and criticism that was directed towards them in the British media. They shouldn’t have been. The fact is that the British are extremely uncomfortable about the sleazy nature of British-Saudi relations. I recently met a senior Foreign Office official who was willing to talk unguardedly about all manner of issues, except one thing – relations with Saudi Arabia and, in particular, the decision to drop a corruption inquiry into arms sales. At that point, he just shut up and refused to answer questions. I would say he was squirming, except that senior mandarins don’t squirm – they just look blank.
But it remains the case that when the Brits think about the Saudis, the ideas that are generally brought to mind are: arms deals, corruption, Mark Thatcher, the suppression of police inquiries, human-rights abuses, the sponsorship of terrorism, and the impossibility of buying a drink. None of these are positive images. Under the circumstances it was peculiarly inept of the Saudis to claim that they had provided valuable intelligence on the London tube bombings, which had been ignored. It would be even more appreciated if they stopped funding lunatic Wahabi mosques.