Peter Oborne, Correspondent for the Daily Mail, speaking at Greenbelt Festival, 28 August 2017
In a seminar titled ‘The Middle East: Descent into Chaos?’ Peter Oborne gave his account of the UK Government’s partisan support for Sunni-backed Governments in the Middle East. To illustrate his view that our Middle East policy is “up for sale to the highest bidder” he gave an account of his exchange with Head of Policy in the Foreign Office.
“I have travelled very extensively over the past 20 years through the Middle East over the past 20 years. We [the UK] are a part of set of alliances between the Sunni States in Saudi, Bahrain, UAE, Jordan, Oman – one of the oddities of these Sunni fundamentalist states is that they are very, very close now, have been for a long time, to Israel. Israel is part of that Sunni gulf coalition. They are ranged up against those that call themselves the resistance, Iran, now Iraq, Syria and of course Hezbollah.
… We have also been objectively hostile to Christianity in the Middle East. We have set eyes of a set of alliances that might have been constructed to drive every last Christian out of the Middle East. Lets just look at Syria …. Of course our great ally, Saudi, won’t even allow churches on their soil; Christians in Palestine suffer the same plight as all the Palestinians, marginalised, driven out of their homes, deprived of prospects without a State. And that’s British policy and we never make a noise about it.
QUESTION What is in it for the British and Americans?
I am coming to the conclusion …. If you say what is British Foreign Policy, you will get the conventional response from the British Government that we support tolerance and human rights around the world. Now we know that can’t be true because of what we do and so what is it? The conclusion that I am reaching is that it is up for sale. They have privatised British Foreign policy so that it is available to the highest bidder. And the same applies of course to America’s foreign policy – you saw Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia a couple of months ago …
And I can sort of prove this. About 6 years ago I was briefly in favour with William Hague. He was subject to a foul homophobic line of attack so I wrote a glowing piece about his gifts and I was invited to the Foreign Office as a result and I sat in his enormous room for a bit and he said “just wander around Peter, wander around”. “Talk to whoever you want”.
And eventually I saw a room – and it said ‘Head of Policy’ on it! I went in. There was a man sitting at a desk. And I said –
“Are you ‘Head of Policy’ at the Foreign Office?”
“You make policy?”
“I’ve been wanting to meet you all my life!”
I said to him “Well let’s start with Saudi and Iran. Why are we automatically in favour of Saudi Arabia and automatically opposed to Iran.”
And he said “Oh, that’s a very simple one – 35,000 jobs in the north of England and oil.”
That’s what he said. And in it he was quite honest about it.