U.K. Cancels $9 Million Saudi Prison Contract and Protests Flogging of British Man

Saudi Arabia Middle East Prison
A general view of Ha'er Prison in Saudi Arabia July 6. The British government has pulled out of a lucrative deal to offer training to the country on how to run its prisons. Reuters/Faisal Al Nasser

The British government has withdrawn from a deal to train its counterpart in Saudi Arabia how to better run its prisons. The news came on the same day that Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to Riyadh to protest the possible flogging of a British man incarcerated in the Gulf state.

Both Cameron's office and Justice Minister Michael Gove confirmed that the government would be pulling out of a deal to provide "training-needs analysis" to the Middle Eastern country, reportedly worth 5.9 million pounds ($9 million), according to The Daily Telegraph.

The Times reported that the decision to cancel the contract comes after a disagreement between Gove and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond over the deal. Gove wished to scrap the deal because of Riyadh's policy on capital and corporal punishment, but Hammond thought the cancellation would be a move against Britain's national interest, the newspaper said.

The oil-rich Gulf state beheaded 100 prisoners in the first six months of the year and also carries out lashings on prisoners as well as crucifixions.

The Times quoted a government spokesperson, who confirmed that the deal had been scrapped but did not give specific reasons, stating merely that "the government has decided that it won't be proceeding with the bid." Gove, speaking in the British parliament, said that co-operation continues between the two countries.

"While we would never compromise on our commitment to human rights," he said, "we must also recognise that it's in the interests of the most important human right of all, the right to live in safety and security, that we should continue with necessary security co-operation with the Saudi government and with other governments."

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour party, said that the government had been "shamed" into cancelling the contract because of Saudi Arabia's record.

"David Cameron has been shamed into a U-turn on this terrible contract, but why on earth was it set up in the first place?" he said, according to the BBC.

"We should be sending a strong message to repressive regimes that the U.K. is a beacon for human rights and that this contract bid is unacceptable in the 21st century and would damage Britain's standing in the world."

The cancellation could have implications in the case of 74-year-old Briton Karl Andree who has already served more than a year in a Saudi jail and now faces 350 lashes.

Andree was arrested by Saudi police in August 2014 after home-made wine was discovered in his car in the port city of Jeddah. He has worked in Saudi Arabia for 25 years as an oil executive.

Cameron has now written to the the Saudi government to protest on behalf of Andree, the Prime Minister's spokeswoman confirmed to The Daily Telegraph.

The Foreign Office's travel guidance for Saudi Arabia warns that "penalties for the possession of, or trade in alcohol are severe. Both result in prison sentences. Do not arrive in Saudi Arabia under the influence of alcohol."