Nabil Najjar: The Government must take a tougher line to protect British nationals abroad

It’s no good boasting about this country’s ‘soft power’ arsenal if even our putative allies can take UK citizens hostage at will.

Nabil Najjar is a political consultant working in the UK and the Middle East. He is an elected councillor in Wiltshire, Director of Conservative Progress.

Earlier this week Matthew Hedges, a British tourist and PhD student, was sentenced to life in prison in the United Arab Emirates. His alleged crime? Spying for the British Government.

Sadly, this is not the first time that a Western citizen has been locked up in a Middle Eastern prison on unproven, sometimes frankly spurious, intelligence-related charges, and if we do not act decisively it will not be the last.

In 2016 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, was detained in Iran for ‘allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime’, and last year Xiyue Wang, an American student from Princeton University, was convicted of spying in Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The US State Department described this as the latest in a succession of ‘fabricated charges’ against US nationals.

Whether through cases such as these, or for that matter the assassination of journalists or former spies on foreign soil, Middle Eastern powers such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran, as well as Russia, have begun flexing their muscles and projecting their own questionable human rights records on an international stage, in flagrant disregard for international precedents.

Opinions abound as to the reasons why. But the nature of our response to a complex international chain of events boils down to a simple one: how much do we as a country value the welfare of our citizens?

The oft-repeated argument about how these countries (and Saudi Arabia in particular) are valuable allies and strategic partners in a tumultuous region, and must not be upset, is one which is well understood, and I am in the camp that believes that, by and large, it is not the UK’s obligation to act as an international policeman. Once, however, this pattern of passive aggression begins to impact the lives of British people, the time has come to lay down a new set of rules of engagement, one which places the interests of our own citizens ahead of economic gain, and puts principle above politics.

Essentially, these governments are taking British nationals hostage; political bargaining chips to be exchanged when needed or returned when expedient. Diplomacy alone yielded pitiful results in the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case, and if we are to avoid another protracted (and potentially unsuccessful) parley with Abu Dhabi, our Government needs to be tough and act decisively from the outset. Rhetoric alone is not enough.

Successive governments have boasted about the UK’s unrivalled arsenal of ‘soft power’ – its ability to use diplomacy, intelligence and negotiation to further its interests – but our Government must be bolder in backing up its soft power with the threat of action, a combination of soft and hard power today known as ‘smart power’.

Whether it comes in the form of issuing travel warnings against holidaying in Dubai, threatening economic sanctions, or expelling diplomats, it is time for ministers to make a bold statement that actions have consequences, and that, in the United Kingdom, we put the human rights of our citizens first, even whilst they are abroad. Imprisonment without due cause will not be tolerated.

“Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”

This sentence is printed on the inside cover of each British passport – perhaps it is time that those whom it may concern are issued with a reminder. If we do not, then we have only ourselves to blame when another British citizen is taken captive.

Garvan Walshe: Leadership crisis. Ministerial resignations. Eyes turn to the army…in Israel

The numbers in the Knesset are finely balanced, and the search is on for a figurehead to end Netanyahu’s decade in power.

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative party. He runs TRD Policy.

An embattled prime minister under attack because of a troubled mission extricating their country from a decades long foreign entanglement. The responsible Cabinet minister resigned, believing the Prime Minister has gone soft, conceding to technocrats and selling the people short. All eyes turned to a famous hawk, deeply suspicious of Iran and known for his divisive work at Education. Yet, confounding expectations, this minister has refused to resign.

But enough about Theresa May’s troubles and Michael Gove’s decision to support her. This government crisis is taking place in Israel.

The resigned minister is Avigdor Lieberman, the former defence minister who wanted a more aggressive policy in Gaza than the Israeli army thought wise.

The unresigned minister is Natfhali Bennett. Unlike Gove, who refused the post of Brexit Secretary and stayed at Defra, Bennett wanted to be moved to the vacant defence ministry, and threatened to resign if he didn’t get it.

In Israel’s proportional system, parties are small and coalitions are formed after elections rather than within parties. Lieberman and Bennett both lead right-wing parties and were once rivals to lead a broad right-of-centre coalition.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has learned to master the system, tacking sufficiently to the right to compete for voters who prefer the red meat that Bennett in particular promises, while remaining acceptable at least to centre-right politicians like Moshe Kahlon, the finance minister.

As long as Israel’s strategic situation stayed uppermost in voters’ minds this was enough to keep him in the lead. Israeli voters do not, by and large, believe there’s a viable peace process, and the Palestinians have been unable to convince them otherwise.

Their traditional Arab allies are either distracted or hostile – preferring indeed a discreet anti-Iranian alliance with Israel – and the United States and EU, who might otherwise devote some attention to imposing an arrangement less to Israel’s advantage than the status quo, are otherwise occupied.

All this makes Netanyahu’s pose as “Mr Security” less relevant. The focus has shifted to corruption and the web of police investigations closing in on Netanyahu himself.

After Lieberman pulled his party out, he was left with a one seat majority. Had Bennett left the government as well, elections would have followed. Netanyahu had until recently thought new elections to be an advantage. Electoral politics after all is his favourite pitch. A new election and endorsement by “the people” could buy him time before the law might catch up with him.

Indeed, the political landscape appears to favour Netanyahu. Polls suggest his Likud party would be by far the single largest, with around 30 seats. Bennett’s nationalist Bayid Yahudi (Jewish Home) is useful to him because there was no chance of them forming a coalition with anyone else, yielding a right-wing bloc of about 40 seats.

A centrist group, including Kahlon’s Kulanu (currently in the government), a new party formed by Orly Levy (who left Bennett’s party to start her own movement) that refuses to position itself on the traditional left-right security spectrum, and the explicitly centrist Yesh Atid, would together win another 30.

The Left, comprising the Zionist Union (led by Tzipi Livni and Avi Gabbay), Meretz and the Joint (Arab) List, secures another 30.

(Religious parties — the Israeli DUP if you like — traditionally support whichever side gives them the largest subsidies, and command around 15 seats.)

That leaves Yisrael Beitenu, a party with its base among immigrants from the former Soviet Union led by the just-resigned Lieberman, and traditionally leaning rightwards, to make up the balance. Lieberman is a right-winger, but it would be perverse (if hardly unIsraeli) for him to resign from a government only to return to it after elections left the distribution of seats pretty much where it had been before.

Though Netanyahu himself can only rely on about 40 seats – a third of the Knesset, including Bennett’s party, to which the Prime Minister can now consider himself hostage – his opponents lack a unifying figurehead. The search is on, and, as is traditional, is zeroing in on the Army barracks.

The decoy general is Ehud Barack, the former Prime Minister. A polarising figure, he is simultaneously Netanyahu’s former commander, the man who beat him decisively in a direct election for Prime Minister in 1999, and someone despised with such intensity in many parts of the political spectrum that he could be called Israel’s Hillary Clinton.

The officer Likud actually fear is Benny Gantz, recently Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces and already under attack from culture minister (and member of Likud) Miri Regev. Mark him. He could be the man to end Netanyahu’s decade in power.

Alexander Temerko: The relationship between business and government has never been as meaningless as under May

The key to a good Brexit is empowering UK entrepreneurs to talk to their European counterparts and become ambassadors for Downing Street’s plan.

Alexander Temerko is an industrialist and a Conservative Party donor and activist.

Never has the relationship between business and Number Ten been as meaningless or fruitless as under Theresa May. She continues to repeat the mantra that she is leading a pro-business government, but that is an exaggeration. Hers is not an anti-business government – that would be a more accurate way of putting it.

A pro-business government is what Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron led in their day; it’s what Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and Angela Merkel are leading today. Despite her soft-spot for SMEs, our Prime Minister is undeniably afraid of global business.

Globalisation has shown that big business and public-private partnerships (something we hardly see in the UK anymore) are the real long-term drivers of a steadily growing modern economy. The presence of global business centres is what makes the difference between a country that’s prosperous and one that’s merely surviving. Indeed, such business is the powerful locomotive, pulling along SMEs and much of the socio-economic activity in the regions.

Business leaders have always been there to support May’s Government at the most critical times. Yet our “strong and stable” leader has repeatedly shunned any direct engagement with business in favour of sporadic consultations with the trade lobby, whose academic experts’ interests have long since been prioritised over representation of any actual economy sectors.

The Prime Minister has a presidential style of leadership. Her talent is for forming small, quasi-familial groups of trusted advisers. While David Cameron was comfortable working with big diversified teams, she seems reluctant to engage with the broad meritocratic audiences whose praises she so often sings. This desire to keep discussions tightly controlled has had a negative impact on almost every key policy decision taken to date. It is time to change.

Today, not only the country’s economy but also its integrity hinges on the UK business community backing the Brexit plans proposed by the Prime Minister and her Cabinet. No-one wants Brexit to be a disaster – but how to avoid it without break-through ideas and bold compromises?

The British economy will quickly lose its appeal should financial, industrial and services majors, driven by impending uncertainty and the fear of mounting responsibility to shareholders, relocate their headquarters and investment capital to more profitable jurisdictions with more predictable regulations. This could, in turn, trigger almost instant separatist rhetoric and action by the country’s subsidised regions.

Inside the eye of the Brexit storm, this outcome would be increasingly irreversible. People will start going by the saying “Better a painful ending than endless pain”. One person will certainly be delighted with a “painful ending”: his name is Vladimir Putin. Are we willing to afford him the pleasure? The answer is clear even to Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees-Mogg, both of whom have been aiding this “painful ending” by holding on to his very own wrong end of the stick.

Europe would suffer, too. Take just one example from my industry: 70 per cent of our utilities are owned by European firms. Machinery and metal products are another trade goldmine for European business. At a time of escalating conflict with the US and sanctions or restrictions in trade relations with China, Russia, Iran and others, this is key. Europe just cannot lose Britain with its import-oriented economy as well. If that happens, countries right at the heart of Europe – France, Germany, Portugal, and to some extent Belgium and Holland too – will feel the pain.

However, in these countries, business is much more influential and integrated with the operation of Government. European business wants to live and wants to live well – which makes it our best ally in promoting a sensible responsible Brexit.

Businesses talk best with other businesses. They will not waste time talking when they don’t know if they are being heard by the Government, though. Hence, the key to a good Brexit is empowering UK entrepreneurs to talk to their European counterparts and become official ambassadors for the Government’s Brexit plan.

The other key piece of the puzzle is for May to accept the Irish border backstop – provided that the EU undertakes to guarantee our country’s integrity. This would restrain any spontaneous separatist movements in the UK, at least for as long as the EU continues to exist. If accession to the EU is all but impossible for any breakaway state, withdrawal from the UK would be pointless.

What happens if our Government does not create the broad coalition of business it needs and push bold compromises through? Quite simply, if there is no deal hammered out by December, a new election will be the only option to avoid the catastrophe of no deal.

If the Chequers plan falls through, it clear to almost everyone today that Parliament will not accept any other plan – be it Canada-plus, Australia-minus or a No Deal. The European Commission for its part, will not consider any new proposals, since none of them could get a majority in the UK Parliament and Europe will itself be moving into EU Parliament elections.

All that’s left are two options. They are both domestic – either a new referendum or another snap election. It is up to Parliament and our political elites to choose. They have to choose between their two great fears: the fear of a new election which is highly likely to mean a coalition government, and the fear of a new referendum that goes against Brexit.