16/07/2013 11:50 BST | Updated 16/07/2013 15:02 BST

Boris Johnson Cable Car Contract With Emirates Bans UAE Criticism And Israeli Investment



TfL said that the contract does not ban expressions of opinion and said it was standard for a sponsor to expect that it would not sell the cable car on to someone else that contradicts the commercial interests of Emirates.

Boris Johnson has effectively gagged himself and Transport for London from criticising the Emirati government or Royal Family in connection with his Thames cable car, it has been revealed.

The contract with Emirates airline, revealed via a Freedom of Information request by MayorWatch, also showed that TfL agreed to abide by UAE foreign policy when entering into contracts and partnerships relating to the Thames Cable Car while the deal is in place.

That means a ban on future sales to any entity with which the UAE does not have diplomatic relations - a ban on deals with Israel.

emirates airline cable car

The Emirates Airline cable car travels across the Thames from North Greenwich to the Royal Docks

TfL said that the contract does not ban expressions of opinion and said it was standard for a sponsor to expect that it would not sell the cable car on to someone else that contradicts the commercial interests of Emirates.

The former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, told HuffPost UK he would never have agreed to such a clause.

"The only people likely to fund this were a medieval dictatorship that wanted some kind of status from it. I just think, [we should have] let the Emirates walk away," he said.

"The idea that no future Mayor or employee of TfL can criticise a medieval dictatorship is absolutely unacceptable.

"But Boris just doesn't do detail. He was very busy writing a book about the history of London at the time."

The full contract has been published on the TfL website.

Danny Price, TfL’s head of the Emirates Air Line, said: “Nothing in the contract prevents the expression of opinion about the scheme. We would always expect our spokespeople to base their statements upon facts, and would therefore be able to offer whatever assessment of the scheme we saw fit."

Emirates has declined to comment.

The Dubai-owned Emirates airline provided £36m towards to the £63m cost of the cable car, which connects North Greenwich with the ExCel centre.

The clause says:

DLRL [Docklands Light Railway] shall not, and shall procure that none of TfL, each member of the TfL Group [including Johnson who chairs TfL], the Air Line Contractor… and their respective directors, senior staff and official spokespeople acting in the course of his or her employment shall make any statement in connection with the subject matter of this contract that is disparaging or defamatory of the Sponsor, any member of the Emirates Group, or any person forming any part of the Government of Dubai and/or the Federal Government of the United Arab Emirates or any member of any of the Royal Families of the United Arab Emirates.

The contract could potentially bind any future Mayor from criticising the deal. It is a mutual clause, so also bans any criticism of the Mayor and TfL by the Emirates.

The Emirates Centre for Human Rights, which lobbies for reform in the UAE, called the clause "astonishing".

"It seems they are trying to subject the authorities here to the same rules they apply to their citizens at home, who cannot criticise the Royal Family," Rori Donaghy, campaigns director at the ECHR, told HuffPost UK.

"The UAE very carefully deploys its soft power, to build a positive image of the country, the ownership of Manchester City, the promotion of the airline, of holidays. I imagine this is something that would usually happen. We can't know for sure, but it does seem likely [that this has happened before]."

"The fact that our politicians are being gagged is deeply concerning."

The contract also says TfL would default on the agreement if it agrees to sell part of the cable car to a "conflicting person".

The contract defines a “Conflicting Person” as:

(i) any Competitor; or (ii) any person who is a national of, or who is registered, incorporated, established or whose principal place of business is in a country with which the United Arab Emirates does not at the date of this Contract or at any relevant point during the Term maintain diplomatic relations;”

Israel is the only country in the world with which the UAE does not have diplomatic relations. The Emirati government does not recognise Israel as a state.

TfL's Price said it was “factually incorrect to suggest that the contract we have with Emirates constrains TfL from entering any contracts with any other body or organisation of our choosing.

"It is to be expected that a sponsorship contract would include a clause to ensure that an organisation cannot simply introduce someone else that cuts across the commercial interests of a main sponsor.

"This is standard practice and simply means that, if we were to sell the Emirates Air Line to someone else, then Emirates would have the option to withdraw their sponsorship. Moreover, we have no plans to sell the Emirates Air Line."

"This story raises serious concerns, yet we are confident that the relevant British authorities will know how to deal with it," Amir Ofek, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London told HuffPost UK.

Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation, said it "sets a dangerous precedent effectively allowing UAE money to dictate government policy through commercial contracts."

In 2009, Dubai banned Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe'er from participating in the Dubai Tennis Championships, by blocking her visa application. The Women's Tennis Association fined the Dubai tournament a record $300,000 and 2008 champion Andy Roddick also refused to defend his men's singles title in protest. She was allowed to participate the following year

The contract also commits TfL to run the cable car during rush hour from at least 7am each weekday – despite usage figures being as low as 15,000 journeys, compared to a high of 70,000. TfL has argued passenger numbers are in line with expectation.

"I wouldn't have built it in the first place," Livingstone told HuffPostUK. "We considered it when I was Mayor, building a cable car to Canary Wharf from the O2, which would have made more sense. But the figures didn't stack up. We came to the conclusion it wasn't worth it."

Although most people travelling said they enjoyed the experience, just 56% consider the cable car offers value for money, a survey for TfL found.