The government is pulling out of the £5.9 million deal to run a prison in Saudi Arabia, Number 10 has announced, after a row between two Cabinet ministers surfaced in the press.
Downing Street also said that David Cameron was writing to the Saudi authorities to raise the ‘extremely concerning’ case of Karl Andree, a British pensioner sentenced to 350 lashes after being caught with homemade alcohol. But the Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman said that the Andree case wasn’t linked to the decision on the prison deal, and wouldn’t answer questions on when the decision was made.
This is of course a victory for Michael Gove, who had been pressing for the government to pull out of the contract, which his predecessor Chris Grayling had approved, and which he would have had to sign in the coming days. Gove had come to blows with Philip Hammond, who Rachel Sylvester reports in her Times column today accused the Justice Secretary of naivety.
It is also something Jeremy Corbyn can claim as a victory, given he urged Cameron to cancel the bid in his party conference speech, saying:
‘And while you’re about it, terminate that bid made by our Ministry of Justice’s to provide services for Saudi Arabia – which would be required to carry out the sentence that would be put down on Mohammed Ali al-Nimr.’
The question is why David Cameron decided to back Gove, and when. It’s not something Downing Street is keen to elaborate on. But the Prime Minister seems to have decided at some point that he wants to take a harder line on the Saudi approach to human rights – and not before time.