The diplomatic niceties that followed the death of the King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia yesterday causes a furore as politicians, journalists and campaigners took to social media to express their anger. David Cameron was among many of the world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, who released statements of condolence on hearing the news of the king’s death.
But Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson called the decision to fly the flag on government buildings at half mast a “steaming pile of nonsense”, The Guardian reported. The MSP told a follower on twitter it was “a stupid precedent to set”.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it had asked government buildings to fly the union flag at half mast for 12 hours in line with protocol following the death of a foreign monarch.
UKIP MP Douglas Carswell called the decision an “extraordinary judgement” given the kingdom’s human rights record including one blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and ten years in jail for insulting Islam.
He said he thought that civil servants were out of touch with what the country felt and asked, “On the day that flags at Whitehall are flying at half-mast for King Abdullah, how many public executions will there be?”
While Harriet Harman was unusually silent given her usual stance against countries which treat women in particular appallingly, Labour MP Paul Flynn criticised the tribute, saying it was evidence of the establishment’s “extraordinary subservience” to foreign royals.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport issued a statement saying it learned of the death of King Abdullah “with great regret” at that government buildings were “requested” to fly flags at half-mast from 8am to 8pm.
“Any other UK national flags flown alongside the union flag when it is at half-mast should also be at half-mast. If a flag of a foreign nation is normally flown on the same stand as the union flag, it should be removed.”
Ms Davidson was not the only person vocal in her disapproval, with Channel 4’s Michael Crick and BBC Presenter Andrew Neil tweeting at the ‘hypocrisy’.
Mr Neil wrote: “Westminster Abbey flying half mast flag for dead King of Saudi Arabia, where Christianity is banned and possessing a Bible illegal.”
And author Tom Holland wrote: “Hooray for British hypocrisy! Flags at 1/2-mast in Whitehall 4 the king of a country that lashes bloggers & executes converts 2 Christianity.”
But some people took their anger further, including former MP Louise Mensch who said Prince Charles was not fit to be king of a country which is 50 per cent women and telling her former boss and Prime Minister David Cameron to F*ck Off. On hearing that it was a decision made by the Queen, she astonishingly replied ”F*ck Her’.
However, Graham Bartram, Chief Vexillologist at the Flag Institute told BBC’s Today Programme: “The death of your head of state is not the appropriate time to make a comment on human [rights].
“Remember that the people who made this decision actually know this person, they’ve sat down and had meals with him: it’s not an appropriate time.
“If you don’t get along with your brother-in-law, you don’t choose the moment of your sister’s death to tell him why you don’t get on with him.”
While Saudi Arabia is controversial in terms of the extreme limits it places on women, its public beheadings hangings and lack of freedom of speech, in terms of diplomacy and security in the region, the oil rich kingdom is hugely important to the West. Not only is it openly opposed to Islamic State, it places huge orders for British-made aircraft bringing in billions of pounds and providing jobs in the industry and project management.