Boris Johnson is Rehabilitating Mohammed bin Salman With His Servile Visit to Saudi Arabia

Photograph Source: Alisdare Hickson – CC BY-SA 2.0

Nobody has ever accused Boris Johnson of having an over-delicate sense of political smell when it comes to dealing with toxic leaders, so it is unsurprising that he is playing an active role in enabling crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, to escape from his status as an international pariah.

The justification for rehabilitating MBS is that more Saudi oil is needed to combat President Vladimir Putin by freeing Europe from dependence on Russian crude.Johnson’s visit to Riyadh this week was preceded by the execution on a single day of 81 prisoners, many of whom said that they had been tortured into making false confessions, but, even so, the Prime Minister brazenly claimed to see signs of positive progress in the Saudi kingdom.

Great dollops of hypocrisy are visible here because, despite their different political backgrounds, MBS and Putin became political untouchables in similar ways. In March 2018, agents from Russian military intelligence tried to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury with the nerve agent Novichok. The Skripals survived the attack, but Dawn Sturgess died some months later after accidentally spraying her wrist with Novichok contained in a discarded perfume bottle.

Six months later in October 2018 in an equally bizarre plot likewise carried out by government agents, the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered and his body dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A CIA report said that MBS must have known about the plan, though he denies any involvement.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of War in the Age of Trump (Verso).