Boris Johnson slammed for UK as ‘Saudi Arabia of penal policy’ comment

Originally posted to The Middle East Monitor website, 16 September 2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has caused outrage with another one of his many gaffs which make light of serious issues. Speaking behind closed doors at a Conservative Party fundraising event earlier this month, Johnson joked that Britain could become “the Saudi Arabia of penal policy” under Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“I said last year we’re the Saudi Arabia of wind. Probably the Saudi Arabia of penal policy, under our wonderful home secretary,” Johnson said, much to the amusement of around 300 people at the lunch held at the InterContinental Hotel on London’s Park Lane.

Given that Saudi Arabia has a terrible human rights record, his attempt to make a joke has sparked outrage.

“Disgusting,” tweeted Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner. “Saudi Arabia beheads its own citizens, tortures activists exercising their democratic rights and kills homosexuals. This is disgusting. As ever with Boris Johnson, behind closed doors the mask slips and we see what he really thinks.”

The home affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, Alistair Carmichael, was equally scathing, saying that the Prime Minister’s comment marked a “new low”.

Johnson, of course, has previously described Muslim women wearing the niqab as looking like “letterboxes”; called Black African children “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”; and said that the problem with Africa is that Britain is “not in charge any more”.

Read: UK premier says ‘proud of legacy’ in Afghanistan

Carmichael pointed out that, “Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record is nothing to joke about. We have real and serious problems with crime and the rule of law in our country that deserve better than sloppy punchlines behind closed doors.”

The prime minister was also slammed for his admiration of the Saudis. “UK police officers facing the prime minister’s pay cuts certainly won’t be laughing,” added Carmichael. “Boris Johnson may admire his pals in the Saudi dictatorship but he cannot escape the fact that his Conservative government is failing miserably to do what actually works to prevent crime.”

In July Johnson was urged to speak out against the EU ban on the hijab in what was an opportunity for him to make amends for his past comments about Muslim women. Despite his never-ending criticism of the EU and repeated mention of the benefits of Britain leaving the bloc, Johnson has yet to comment on the ban.

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