British PM May accused of double standards over terrorism funding, by failing to mention Saudi Arabia
British Prime Minister Theresa May will enter G20 talks in Hamburg claiming that her priority is to disrupt terrorist groups from accessing finance - but facing criticism for failing to raise questions over Saudi Arabia’s role in funding extremism.
A string of opposition leaders, including Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democats’ Tim Farron, the Greens’ Caroline Lucas and the SNP’s Ian Blackford, said May should use the summit to place direct pressure onto the Gulf state.
Speaking prior to the summit, May warned that the terror threat was evolving.
“As we deny physical space to terrorists to operate in theatre, we must outpace the terrorist methodology as it develops to attack other vulnerable targets and increases inspired attacks,” she said.
“We must therefore combat the threat from every angle. This includes taking measures against permissive environments for terrorist financing, and monitoring the dispersal of foreign fighters from battle.”
The British prime minister will hold a bilateral meeting with the US president, Donald Trump, on Saturday, where the pair will discuss the threat of North Korea, and May will raise the issue of climate change after the US said it would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. However, May’s team have not included climate change in their four key objectives for the summit on counter-terrorism, migration, modern slavery and the economy.
May has two other bilateral meetings in her diary: with China’s President Xi Jinping on Friday evening, and with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday.
Downing Street said the call to cut off the money supply to terrorists was part of a “comprehensive government response to the cowardly terrorist attacks carried out in London and Manchester this year”. May will focus on improving standards in areas vulnerable to exploitation for terrorist financing, including setting up public-private partnerships to enhance co-operation between law enforcement and banks in regional hubs.
She will also call on world leaders to work with the private sector to develop better tools and technologies to identify suspicious small flows of money, and to better track individuals returning from countries such as Syria and Iraq. Sources said that detecting patterns in financial transactions could help identity individuals.
But there has been no mention of raising any country-specific threat, including that of Saudi Arabia - despite a report on Wednesday from the Henry Jackson Society calling on the UK government to set up a public inquiry into questions around the funding of extremism.
It has also emerged that the government is sitting on a report into the foreign funding of extremism given to Downing Street last year. The Saudi embassy in London strenuously denies its state has been funding terrorism, saying it is a victim of such extremism.
Corbyn said: “If Theresa May is serious about cutting off financial and ideological support for terrorism, she should publish the suppressed report on foreign funding of UK-based extremism and have difficult conversations with Saudia Arabia, not hug Saudi and allied Gulf states even closer.”
Corbyn was also highly critical of May for not including climate change as one of the four objectives, saying it could only be “effectively tackled with international cooperation”.
The UK is trying to act as a mediator in the dispute between two of its closest allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, offering to put extra resources into tracking flows of funds. German intelligence services have also offered to investigate at the request of the German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, who visited the region this week.
The Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, claimed that nations such as Saudi Arabia were “key exporters of extremist ideology around the world and yet we look the other way in exchange for massive arms deals”. He called on May to use the G20 as a chance to raise it with the Saudi representative “face to face”.
Saudi’s King Salman will not attend the two-day meeting in Germany, but is sending his finance minister, Mohammed al-Jadaan, in his place.
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, added: “It’s astonishing that the prime minister is claiming to clamp down on terrorist funding, yet seemingly failing to acknowledge that one of Britain’s closest allies, Saudi Arabia, is at the heart of this global problem.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said: “The UK government’s relationship - and arms sales - to Saudi Arabia must not blight efforts to tackle terrorism.”