In a gesture which could not be more emblematic of the economic importance of Saudi Arabia, the British government has declared all UK flags should be flown at half-mast to mourn the death of King Abdullah, sparking fury at Westminster.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told Huffington Post UK the order had come from Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace said that it had come from DCMS.
"Buckingham Palace is flying the Union Flag at half-mast in accordance with the guidance issued by DCMS," a spokesman told HuffPost.
Neither were able to offer an explanation on the instruction for British institutions to honour the ruler of a nation which endorses public beheadings, floggings for apostasy and where women are forbidden from driving.
Our flag at half mast today as mark of respect following the death of His Majesty King Abdullah pic.twitter.com/Dh6etH26oa— Foreign Office (FCO) (@foreignoffice) January 23, 2015ADVERTISEMENT
The Abbey flag is flying at half mast as a mark of respect following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, King of Saudi Arabia— Westminster Abbey (@wabbey) January 23, 2015
A statement from the DCMS issued earlier this morning said: "It is requested that all flags be half-masted from 8am today until 8pm this evening. Any other UK national flags flown alongside the Union Flag when it is at half-mast should also be at half-mast."
The DCMS later emailed HuffPost UK stating: "In line with long-standing arrangements, the Union Flag is flown at half-mast on Government Buildings following the death of a foreign monarch."
Westminster Abbey was one of the institutions that flew the flag at half-mast today, as well as government buildings in Whitehall.
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An Abbey spokesman told Huffington Post: 'We always fly flags from Westminster Abbey, and today the government has ordered for the flags to be flown at half mast. For us not to fly the flag at half-mast would be for us to make a needlessly aggressive comment on the death of King of a country to which the UK is allied in the fight against Islamic terror.
"Nor would it have done anything to advance the cause of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, for whom we pray constantly.
Official guidelines state that the flag can fly at half-mast after the deaths of foreign rulers, after "special commands from the Sovereign in each case".
Flags were last flown at half mast for death of Zambian president in October 2014.
Why are flags flying at half mast around Whitehall for the head of the Saudi regime that sentences a blogger to 1000 lashes?— Michael Crick (@MichaelLCrick) January 23, 2015
From the dropping the 2006 BAe fraud investigation to dropping the flags to half-mast.
The UK will drop anything for our Saudi allies.— Jack of Kent (@JackofKent) January 23, 2015
Of course, had Saddam Hussein died in early 1990 we probably would've flown our flags at half-mast for him, too.— Tim Stanley (@timothy_stanley) January 23, 2015
Today, all flags will be at half mast after the death of Emperor Palpatine, who ruled the galaxy fairly #halfmastfails— Owen Bennett (@owenjbennett) January 23, 2015
Whitehall flying the flag at half mast for #KingAbdullah is a disgrace worthy of Twitter's moral outrage. Embarrassing, sickening. RAGE.— Jay Stoll (@jaystoll) January 23, 2015
Hooray for British hypocrisy! Flags at 1/2-mast in Whitehall 4 the king of a country that lashes bloggers & executes converts 2 Christianity— Tom Holland (@holland_tom) January 23, 2015
Even politicians have criticised the decision to fly the flags at half-mast, with Ukip MP Douglas Carswell re-tweeting several people who decried the gesture, and Labour MP Stella Creasy asking if Westminster Abbey had lit a candle for Saudi blogger Rafi Badawi, sentenced to 100 lashes.
Flying flags at half mast on gov buildings for the death of Saudi king is a steaming pile of nonsense. That is all.— Ruth Davidson MSP (@RuthDavidsonMSP) January 23, 2015
Disgusting that flags are being flown at half mast for the death of an autocrat. If anything we should double the length of the flagpoles— Tom Copley (@tomcopley) January 23, 2015