THE BLOG
06/02/2014 06:51 GMT | Updated 17/03/2015 16:59 GMT

Distracted by a Big, Shiny Arms Deal - David Cameron Has Abandoned a British Citizen, Please Help

The Brits are big in the weapons game too, in fact our tiny isle is second only to the mighty U.S of A in arms manufacturing and exporting.

The Super Bowl on Sunday evening was a reminder that Western powers pornify military hardware just as dramatically as their cousins in North Korea, China or Russia. An operatic "Star Spangled Banner" climaxed just before the game started, with a livestream from Kandahar airbase and a stadium flyover by Blackhawk attack helicopters. Millions of jocks burst into tears and hugged their nearest bro. It was beautiful.

And the message was clear - America may have Barack Obama in charge, but they've still got the guns.

The Brits are big in the weapons game too, in fact our tiny isle is second only to the mighty U.S of A in arms manufacturing and exporting.

It must be an exotic feeling when a newly anointed politician, who previously held

only the keys to his local party safe, finds himself not only with the codes to the nuclear arsenal, but a sovereign responsibility for flogging the latest British-made military hardware to anyone who will buy it.

We're very good at it - as are the rest of Europe. In a time of near total violence in the Middle East, European arms companies have shipped a record volume of guns and ammo into the Levant, the Gulf, North Africa and everywhere nearby.

So you can understand why David Cameron, excitable young chap that he is, diverted his return leg flight from Sri Lanka, to stop off at the Dubai International Airshow in November last year.

Compared to the PR pummelling he was getting over the controversial Commonwealth summit, sitting back and watching supersonic jets fly past must have been bliss. A PR man to the tee, he suavely talked up the benefits of the British-made Eurofighter Typhoon over the French Dassault Rafale fighter jet.

If Cameron could convince the Emirati to buy sixty Eurofighter jets, BAE systems would get £6billion. National pride was also at stake - American and French companies were also in the ring to arm the UAE "fly-boys."

Cameron came away from the meeting feeling pretty confident - commenting soon afterwards that the UK were "in the running."

"If we play to our strengths we can be a real winner," he added. "And one of our strengths is aerospace. It's an industry we're good at."

Publically supporting Dubai's bid to host World Expo2020 was also a big part of the sales push.

Dominic Jermey, Britain's ambassador to the UAE, blogged about it at length.

"Supporting Dubai's bid for Expo 2020 very publicly was a big deal for the UK. We had never come out publicly to support an Expo candidate city before. But Dubai was different. Let me explain why."

(reach for sick bucket).

"There were some excellent competitors among the Expo candidate cities. But we judged Dubai's bid was outstanding....The question then was whether, as the UK, we would go public about our support. Countries don't normally do this."

Countries don't normally do this: Mr. Jermey is correct. Unless, that is, they are under strict instructions to butter up potential fighter jet customers. Indeed, UAE has been officially nominated a "Priority market," for arm sales, for the past six years.

In a bid to help Dubai out (and to suck up), the Prime Minister penned a gushing op-ed, published by Gulf News. William Hague announced Britains support for the bid formally in Parliament, Ministers were wheeled out for TV interviews, Dubai got the whole shebang.

And our Foreign Secretary was the first dignitary to tweet congratulations after Dubai won the bid.

So, after all that effort, and after UAE had won their bid, did we sell the jets?

No.The UAE pulled out of the deal in December.

Cameron blushed. Our arms industry credentials were in tatters.

While this botched deal was playing out, a British citizen named Afsana Lauchaux, was in serious trouble. She still is.

Afsana is a Bangladeshi-born, British-raised woman - a lifelong civil servant (both local and national level), and a mother to two graduate sons, who are now working in London. She had left for Dubai to start a new life with her French husband in 2010.

Sadly, shortly after arriving there, her spouse became violent and abusive. Terrified for her own life, she fled their Dubai apartment with their new baby son, Louis, just a few months old.

A victim of the country's notoriously sexist legal system (despite having married under UK law) - as a single woman she was unable to work, banned from leaving the country and forced to give her passport to her husband, and made homeless. She was even physically assaulted by a police officer, according to her son.

This went on for nearly two years. Despite repeated requests, The Foreign Office said, and continue to say, that they are unable to help her return to the UK.

I spoke to Afsana's son, Rabbhi, last week, as part of an article I wrote for The Independent about her case.

"As a family, we are disgusted with the way they have handled my mother's case,"

Rabbhi had approached the Foreign Office dozens of times, asking for his mothers case to be raised as Ministers flew over to Dubai to help sell the jets.

"Most of our calls were never returned. They don't want to jeopardise the sale."

Amazingly, William Hague has gone on the record saying arms deals could be put above human rights, in a speech he gave in Azerbaijan.

"It's not a principle of British foreign policy not to trade with countries with whom we have human-rights difficulties."

He also said -

"It's our policy to raise human rights very actively and then trade,"

Did the UK government raise Ms. Lauchaux's case while they were selling Eurofighters to the UAE? No.

Did they get the Eurofighter deal? No.

Is there anything the British government could be doing to help Ms. Lauchaux? Yes.

The official Foreign Office line regarding Afsana Lauchaux is "We cannot interfere in the judicial process of another country." In fact, Western governments regularly intervene to save their citizens from the UAE's imperfect justice system.

An Austrian woman living in Dubai, who had reported her own rape then unexpectedly been charged with adultery, was brought home after intervention by the Austrian government. The Norwegian government did the same after a similar incident occured with one of their citizens. An American consultant living in UAE, who posted a comedy video and was arrested under terrorism laws, was also freed after intervention by the US government. All this in the past year.

So David Cameron, why don't you make the best out of a bad situation? You've cocked up the arms deal, the least you can do is help Afsana.

Knowing him, he may need a little persuading. So please sign a petition to help bring Afsana home. Thank you.

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