Kettering MP's Saudi-funded trip to the frontline

Kettering MP Philip Hollobone says a trip funded by the Saudi Arabian government will help him better respond to residents' questions.

Tuesday, 23rd October 2018, 6:00 am
Mr Hollobone (left) with fellow Tories Leo Doherty and Richard Bacon on the Saudi trip. Picture published by the Saudi embassy in London. NNL-181022-141441005

The Conservative Brexiter visited the kingdom’s capital Riyadh and the border region with Yemen from January 11 to 15 this year.

The Saudi’s Ministry of Defence paid for his flights, accommodation, transport and food at a value of £8,527.

With diplomatic pressure growing after Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the country’s consulate in Istanbul earlier this month, Channel 4 revealed more than 30 British MPs, including Mr Hollobone, had been on state-funded trips there since 2015.

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A picture of Mr Hollobone on the Saudi trip, published by the Saudi embassy in London. NNL-181022-141430005

The Kettering MP said the trip “wasn’t a holiday” but that such visits allow him to better respond to questions from his constituents.

He said: “MPs debate and vote on foreign affairs and local residents frequently contact me about many of the world’s trouble spots.

“It is therefore helpful if MPs can have some first hand knowledge of the countries concerned.

“It’s obviously not possible and there isn’t the time to visit everywhere, but sometimes an opportunity comes up to visit a country of particular concern.

“In recent years to better respond to residents’ enquiries I have been to some difficult places including Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the refugee camps in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.

“These are not holidays. They are working visits, with long days of multiple meetings, briefings and visits to hard-to-reach places.”

The trip saw Mr Hollobone, MP Leo Doherty (Con, Aldershot) and MP Richard Bacon (Con, South Norfolk) visit the frontline to see the impact of the war there.

Mr Hollobone, who was elected in 2005, said he would not have been able to go on the trip unless invited by the Saudis and that he had properly declared the hospitality.

He said: “As Saudi Arabia is a closed country, it is not possible for an MP to visit unless invited by the Saudi government.

“Such working visits have to be publicly declared, which I have done in the proper way. No expense fell to UK taxpayers.

“In Saudi Arabia, at the British Embassy, I actually bumped into a local resident from the Northants Telegraph area who was working there on a transport project.

“This shows how small the world is becoming.

“I also went to the frontline with Yemen to see the devastating impact of the war between the Saudi coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.”

After dissident journalist Mr Khashoggi’s death the UK has been under pressure from some political quarters to suspend arms sales to the Arab country.

Mr Hollobone condemned the death of Mr Khashoggi and said he awaited to see the UK’s response.

He said: “Saudi Arabia is an important ally for the UK, not least because intelligence on terrorist suspects is shared with the UK, which has helped prevent a number of attacks in this country.

“Saudi Arabia also plays an important role in containing the spread of Iranian-backed terrorism throughout the Middle East, which is why the UK sells it arms.

“However, just because a country is an ally, does not mean that the UK government approves of everything that country does.

“There has been understandable concern expressed about civilian deaths in Yemen caused by Saudi airplanes.

“In Riyadh, I was able to visit the airforce command centre from where such attacks are co-ordinated and was briefed on what is being done to reduce such incidents to an absolute minimum.

“I also saw bombed out homes on the Saudi side of the border and spoke with Saudi victims of Houthi attacks, something which is rarely, if ever, reported by the UK media.”