Human rights groups have raised concerns that a Tory MP who took over £30,000 in hospitality from repressive Gulf states could be made minister for the Middle East.
Leo Docherty was appointed as a minister of state at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office earlier this month as part of Liz Truss’s new front bench.
The department has yet to say which portfolio he will be given, but campaigners says they are “extremely concerned” he might be put in charge of relations with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
They say such an appointment would be “unthinkable” given the MP’s “past patronage from some of the most repressive regimes in the world” and praise for them in parliament.
During the first 18 months since his election in 2017 Mr Docherty received £30,437 in paid-for trips from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, according to his register of interests.
And in 2017 he was subject of a formal complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards after failing to properly declare a paid-for trip to Saudi Arabia.
During a September 2018 parliamentary debate about Bahrain in which MPs expressed concerns about human rights in the country, Mr Doherty said he was “extremely proud” to be associated with the Gulf state – where Amnesty International says torture is used with “impunity”.
“When we travel to Bahrain, we see a young country that has achieved remarkable development in a very short time,” he said, adding that “there is a huge impulse in the ruling family to deliver reform and improvements”.
In an article published in October 2018 Mr Doherty defended taking paid-for trips from the governments other Gulf countries, saying Saudi Arabia “has for many years been hugely important strategically for the UK across many sectors”. He described the UK was “a long-standing ally of our friends in Saudi Arabia and in the UAE”.
The Foreign Office declined to comment on the campaigners’ concerns but said portfolios for the ministers would be allocated and announced in due course.
“This appointment has raised alarm bells among human rights groups,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
“Leo Docherty has repeatedly received gifts in the form of paid trips from Gulf States including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and then praised them in Parliament, despite their atrocious human rights abuses.
“We are extremely concerned that Leo Docherty has been made a Foreign Office Minister and fear he may be given the Middle East brief even though his past patronage from some of the most repressive regimes in the world gives rise to an apparent conflict of interest which should make such an appointment unthinkable.”
And Lord Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer and vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf, said it would be “frankly unacceptable” for a minister to have been “directly sponsored by those same states, receiving gifts in the form of lavish trips”.
Lord Scriven added: “He took selfies with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia while he was overseeing a military operation in Yemen, the world’s worst manmade humanitarian crisis, and who has overseen executing pro-democracy protesters in Saudi Arabia.
“He defended Bahrain during a Parliamentary debate in which the ruling families human rights atrocities were laid bare, including against peaceful dissident Dr Abduljalil AlSingace who was been refusing solid food for over a year, and Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa face execution after attending pro-democracy protests.
“For all the Government’s talk of a ‘global Britain’ and promises to stand up for human rights across the world, this appointment would indicates that the new Truss Government and the Foreign Office will continue to turn a blind eye to atrocities committed in the region.”
In June this year Liz Truss, who was at the time foreign secretary, refused too criticised Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. He said she would “describe the Gulf states as partners of the United Kingdom”.
“Is every country that we work with exactly in line with the United Kingdom policy on everything? No they’re not. But they’re important allies of the United Kingdom.”
As Trade Secretary in September 2019 she admitted illegally approving controlled arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Court of Appeal had ruled that it was unlawful for the UK to approve weapons exports without assessing whether there was a “historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law” by the Saudi forces operating in Yemen.