William Wallace writes… Sources of UK extremism

Part of our role in both houses of Parliament is to hold the government to the commitments they – often reluctantly – give.  One of the five conditions Lib Dem parliamentarians established in return for supporting the extensions of air operations over Iraq to Syria was that the government should set up an enquiry into sources of funding for extremist versions of Islam within the UK.  Alastair Carmichael in the Commons, and myself in the Lords, are holding the Conservatives to the promise they made to report on this by ‘the Spring of 2016’. Alastair has pressed ministers on the size and quality of the ‘Extremism Analysis Unit’ set up in the Home Office to cover this.  I asked an oral question in the Lords yesterday (February 3rd) on how thoroughly overseas funding will be investigated, from both foreign government and from private sources. In both cases, the answers have been that the government is acting on this commitment, but there are clear reasons why we should continue to put pressure on them to deliver.

We found when in coalition that there were many Conservatives who were far too close to the Gulf monarchies and their royal families.  Some had met Arab princes as fellow-cadets at Sandhurst or Cranwell; others meet them while racing at Ascot or Newmarket, or in weekend parties in Surrey or the Cotswolds.  Conservative ministers were determined to compete with the French in selling more arms to these already well-supplied monarchies – above all, hoping against hope to sell the Typhoon fighter aircraft in competition with the French Rafale.  David Cameron was reported to have frequent phone conversations with leading Gulf princes; his unilateral decision to set up an enquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood was apparently in response to a personal request from one of these.   Behind the scenes in government, and openly now back in opposition, we have attacked the Conservatives for their uncritical support for the Saudi royal family and the Gulf monarchies, with the dangers that the UK will end up supporting hard-line Sunni authoritarianism against both political reform and Shia communities across the Middle East.

Britain should be supporting reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and moves towards reform in the authoritarian Sunni states.  We all recognise that developments across the Middle East spill over into Europe and into Britain.  How we behave towards these royal families, with their direct links into British society and the British economy, has implications for social integration here as well as for the containment of conflicts there. I believe that this report will shed some light on some of these links and help reform our approach. I also note that the Foreign Affairs select committee has launched an inquiry into ISIL’s sources of funding, which will helpfully complement the government’s UK based investigation.

* William Wallace has fought five parliamentary elections in Manchester and West Yorkshire. He is a former president of the Yorkshire regional Liberal Democrats.

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  • Gordon Anders 4th Feb '16 - 9:57pm

    It must be tongue in cheek!
    An unelected member of the Lords writing about politicians being too close to the elite.

    Over 100 LibDem Peers maintaining their comfort and connections without the requirement to be tested at the ballot box.

  • William Wallace 5th Feb '16 - 8:01pm

    I’ve just seen this snide comment, on arriving in Saltaire from Aberystwyth, where I made a speech to 100 students last night and met with Ceredigion Liberal Democrat local activists this morning. My wife is talking about Europe to Calderdale LibDems this evening, so she will catch up with me tomorrow. Last week I met with the headteachers of three Bradford secondary schools. Tomorrow we will both be out in Keighley, but hope to catch up with fellow-members of the Saltaire Allotment Society on Sunday. Incidentally, we came to Saltaire many years ago when I was selected as the parliamentary candidate for Shipley, which I fought in 1983 and 1987. Most of my colleagues in the Lords also campaign actively at weekends, and spend a lot of time well beyond Westminster, as well as working hard to oppose the daft ideas the Conservatives are now trying to push through. Labour and thte Conservatives both resisted Lords reform – so we work within the system that we’ve got, until we can reform it.

  • Christian de Vartavan 6th Feb '16 - 1:01pm

    When a member of the British government or establishment interacts with a counterpart of Saudi Arabia he or she should remember that he is dealing with a representative of an oppressive monarchical autocracy which practises on a regular basis as punishment amputation, beheading and, even more barbaric, crucifixion. Punishments which are also very cruely applied to persons under the age of 18 which is, incidentally, against international law. Of course for some money has no more colour than once upon a time the apartheid did not bother many. Let us not speak about the fact that women have no rights to drive, to travel alone and else – which some will regard as ‘cultural’ peculiarities. Or the fact that Christians are not allowed to worship openly (hence no churches) and that tourists, as far as I know, are not allowed in the country or rarely so under very special conditions. Of course this is the reverse here at home, as some may have noticed, for Saudi or non Saudi muslims. Others will argue that economical ties require to close one’s eyes or simply necessitate some very cynical politics. And that hence to have nothing to do with the Saudis until they pacify and open themselves is more easily said than done. All is indeed a question of choice and the consequences of one’s choice. As to Saudi Arabia financing IS it was apparently common in 2012 and 2013 when the country wanted to get rid of Assad, and continued in a lesser proportion in 2014 according to such sources as Michael Stephens, director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar. I would be interested to have data for 2015. Hence Lord William is right to outwardly state that ‘there are clear reasons why we should continue to put pressure on them [the Tories] to deliver’ funding information. This is indeed one of the ways to fight back Muslim radicalism in Britain. A subject I have dealt with in my two articles in LibDemVoice ‘You do not kill and idea with bombs’ and ‘Young Men, IS wants you!’ which those interested in neutralizing IS’ extensions in the country may equally find of interest.

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