"Our two Kingdoms share a long friendship, going back to the foundation of the modern Saudi state. Continuity of personal relationships, essential if we are to understand each other better, have been central to this."
Sir John Jenkins, HM Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
If we are to be judged by the company we keep then Prince Charles has a lot of explaining to do. This week the future king has been strutting his stuff on the international stage, with highly publicised visits to dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain.
Officially the purpose of his trip was for HRH to visit a plethora of museums, galleries and sights of historical significance. But it would seem that it was carefully timed to facilitate the conclusion of arms company BAE System's latest multi billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. Negotiations over the price of Eurofighter Typhoon had been going on for years and even two visits by David Cameron had not persuaded the Saudi royals to sign.
We know that Prince Charles' visit was made at the behest of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and came only 11 months after his last one, which was explicitly requested by the UK government to help 'enhance military links'. Prior to Charles' visit BAE's share price was set to fall, but the announcement of the deal prevented it from falling further than it otherwise would have done given the results.
This is not the first time that the Royal family has been used to do BAE's bidding and offer political support to tyrants. Over the years they have rubbed shoulders with a number of despots and have been enlisted to promote controversial arms sales to a number autocratic Gulf states whose rulers are impressed by the attention of Royals.
Prince Andrew has been a long time cheerleader in chief for the arms industry, and over the years he has been linked to a number of sales to despots. Only last month he was in Bahrain as part of a 250 strong UK delegation with BAE and other arms companies to celebrate the sham that was GREAT British Week - a week designed to promote relations between the UK and the Bahraini regime.
Andrew wasn't there by accident, in 2011 a palace spokesperson described his role by saying "Middle East potentates like meeting princes. He comes in as the son of the Queen and that opens doors that otherwise would remain closed. He can raise problems with a crown prince and four or five weeks later we discover that the difficulties have been overcome and the contract can be signed."
Not only are these endorsements unethical, but they give legitimacy to oppressive governments and undermine democracy movements in those countries. Furthermore, these visits cheapen and demean the UK's claims to support human rights and democracy around the world.
In theory the Royals are supposed to play a ceremonial and apolitical role, but there is nothing apolitical about supporting the arms trade. Unfortunately Charles has always had an attachment to powerful and oppressive Middle Eastern rulers, a point underlined by the fact that this was his ninth state visit to the Saudi regime.
Royalists and republicans may not see eye to eye on a lot of things, but surely one point everyone can agree on is that it is totally inappropriate for the heir to the throne to be using his position to lend UK support to some of the worst dictators and human rights abusers around the world.
The Saudi Arabian dictatorship is a particularly brutal and despotic one. The most recent Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index ranked it 163 out of 167 countries and gave it zero points for "electoral process and pluralism". The only countries ranked lower were Syria, Chad, Guinea Bissau and North Korea. This point was emphasised the day after Prince Charles left, when seven Saudi citizens were jailed for 20 years for protesting against the autocratic regime.
His support for the Saudi dictatorship may not be unique, but it is yet another sign of the contradictory and hypocritical nature of UK foreign policy. Unfortunately, when it comes to business the human rights usually often play second fiddle to the short term profits of the arms companies. This is why the UK has licensed over £5.6 billion worth of weaponry to Saudi Arabia in the last five years alone. Unfortunately, not for the first time, the Royal family has allowed itself to be co-opted into a dirty business.
Please sign our petition to stop the Royal family's involvement in the arms trade here.Suggest a correction