LONDON (AP) — The U.K. government on Tuesday pulled out of £5.9 million ($9 million) deal to sell prison expertise to Saudi Arabia that had drawn opposition from rights groups and senior politicians.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said Britain had withdrawn its bid for the training contract after reviewing Ministry of Justice “priorities.” It also said Cameron was writing to Saudi authorities about the “very concerning” case of a British man sentenced to 350 lashes for possessing alcohol.
Former oil-industry worker Karl Andree, 74, served a year in prison after being caught with homemade wine and also faces a public flogging. His son, Simon Andree, said his father was frail and might not survive the punishment and asked Cameron “to personally intervene and help get our father home.”
Human rights groups are pressing British authorities to take a tougher line with the conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom, a major strategic and trading partner and the world’s biggest buyer of British weapons.
The prisons deal was strongly opposed by opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said the government had been “shamed into a U-turn on this terrible contract.”
“We should be sending a strong message to repressive regimes that the U.K. is a beacon for human rights and that this contract bid is unacceptable in the 21st century,” Corbyn said.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove has also expressed reservations about the deal, and recently shut down Justice Solutions International, a government-run commercial body that sold prison expertise to countries including China, Pakistan, Libya and Nigeria.
Gove told lawmakers in the House of Commons that British officials had submitted a final bid for the Saudi contract in April but had since “reviewed this issue further and decided to withdraw our bid.”
He defended Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, saying the security cooperation between the two countries had saved lives. But he added that a balance must be struck between security and “standing up to the values that our citizens believe in and would like to see us promote.”