David Cameron SCRAPS Saudi Arabia deal in protest over beheadings

  • Victory for Justice Secretary Michael Gove after bitter Cabinet split
  • Department's commercial arm won contract to advise on Saudi prisons
  • Gove spoke out in protest at use of beheadings, lashings and crucifixions
  • Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned of impact on relations with ally
  • David Cameron over-ruled Gove and insisted the deal must go ahead 
  • But today Downing Street said it was cancelling the £6million contract 

By Matt Chorley, Political Editor for MailOnline

Published: 05:41 EST, 13 October 2015 | Updated: 20:04 EST, 13 October 2015

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David Cameron has been forced to cancel a controversial £6million prisons deal with Saudi Arabia after a Cabinet row over the strict regime's human rights record.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove demanded the contract be torn up in protest at the country's human rights record and criminal justice system which uses beheadings, lashings and crucifixions.

It comes as the family of a cancer-ridden British pensioner have made a desperate plea to save him from being publicly flogged 350 times in Saudi Arabia after he was caught with home-made wine.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove tried to get the contract torn up in protest at the country's human rights record
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond reportedly accused Mr Gove of naivety because pulling out of the deal risked upsetting an ally

Justice Secretary Michael Gove (left) tried to get the contract torn up but was accused of being naive by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (right) who was concerned about damaging relations with Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been the frequent focus of human rights groups, attracting criticism for the hundreds of beheadings, floggings (like the one above) and mutilations it carries out every year

Saudi Arabia has been the frequent focus of human rights groups, attracting criticism for the hundreds of beheadings, floggings (like the one above) and mutilations it carries out every year

The row centres on the controversial deal under which the Ministry of Justice was due to carry out a 'training needs analysis across all the learning and development programmes within the Saudi Arabian Prison Service'.

It raised the prospect of the UK government profiting from the Saudi regime through Just Solutions international (JSi), the commercial brand for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) which is 'promoting products and services to international justice markets'.

According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia executed 102 people in first six months of 2015 – more than in all of last year.

Mr Gove, who took over the justice brief in May, wanted the deal scrapped because Britain should not be seen to condone a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

He was backed by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, despite concerns about the impact on trade relations with Saudi Arabia.

But Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond reportedly accused Mr Gove of naivety because pulling out of the deal risked upsetting an ally.

Earlier this year David Cameron faced criticism for fawning tributes after the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who awarded him the King Abdullah Decoration One three years ago

Earlier this year David Cameron faced criticism for fawning tributes after the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who awarded him the King Abdullah Decoration One three years ago

But the Prime Minister's official spokesman today confirmed the deal would not be going ahead.

She said: 'This bid to provide additional training to Saudi Arabia has been reviewed and the government has decided it won’t be proceeding with the bid.

'The review has been ongoing following the decision that was accepted earlier in September to close down that branch of the MoJ that was providing these services.’

The spokesman said it was a reflection that the government had decided to focus on ‘different priorities’ and confirmed the Saudis had been informed.

‘It has always been the government’s position to work with other countries to help develop their criminal justice systems to strengthen their human rights…We continue to engage with the Saudis on this issue.’

Mr Cameron, who this year faced criticism for fawning tributes after the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, had sided with the Foreign Office and insisted the deal go ahead.

Briton Karl Andree, 74, is facing 350 lashes after police in Saudi Arabia found bottles of wine in his car

Briton Karl Andree, 74, is facing 350 lashes after police in Saudi Arabia found bottles of wine in his car

But in a victory for Mr Gove at noon today Downing Street said the contract was being cancelled and confirmed the commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice would be wound up. 

It is understood that there would have been no financial penalties if the government had pulled out of the contract.

Mr Gove had already ordered a halt to any further work by Just Solutions to 'focus departmental resources on domestic priorities'.

Prisons minister Andrew Selous said last month: 'The Justice Secretary has decided that JSi should cease to operate.'

He added that the Saudi Arabia deal was 'sufficiently far advanced that the Government has decided withdrawing at this late stage would be detrimental to HMG's wider interests'. 

Number 10 insisted the sudden u-turn was unconnected the case of Karl Andree, 74, who was arrested in Jeddah last year after police found bottles of wine in his car.

He was sentenced to 12 months in prison and flogging for breaching the country's strict anti-alcohol laws. 

He has served his time in jail but is still locked up as Saudi officials wait to carry out the lashings. 

Mr Andree's children fear the barbaric punishment will kill him after he has already spent a year in a notorious prison in the strict Islamic kingdom. 

His son Simon, 33, told the Sun: 'There is no doubt in our minds that 350 lashes will kill him.

'Our father has given 25 years of his working life to Saudi Arabia, and this is how he is treated.

'Until his arrest, he has always been happy working there and felt safe. He is 74, has had cancer three times and his wife is dying in a home in the UK. 

'He now needs medical care for his cancer and asthma and there is no doubt in our mind that 350 lashes will kill him.

'We implore David Cameron to personally intervene and help get our father home.'

Distraught: Mr Andree with, from left to right, son Hugh, daughter Kristen, wife Verity and son Simon

Distraught: Mr Andree with, from left to right, son Hugh, daughter Kristen, wife Verity and son Simon

Earlier this year flags were ordered to fly at half-mast across Westminster while the Prime Minister joined Prince Charles to fly to Jeddah to pay his respects.

The reaction was condemned by critics who said King Abdullah's rule saw regular public beheadings and floggings – and homosexuality punished by death.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the decision to fly flags at half mast was 'a steaming pile of nonsense'.

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