Saudi Arabia’s explanation about the death of a dissident journalist is not “credible” but the UK is not preparing to terminate it relationship with the state, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has said.
The Gulf kingdom admitted on Friday that Jamal Khashoggi was killed at its Istanbul consulate but claimed he died after a fight broke out.
Raab said it was a “terrible case” but the UK government was “not throwing our hands in the air” because thousands of jobs depended on relations with the country.
His comments came as Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany’s Heiko Maas called for “credible facts” about what happened to Khashoggi.
Raab said the government supported an investigation into the killing.
Asked if he believed the Saudi government’s explanation, Raab said: “No, I don’t think it’s credible.”
“We are not throwing our hands in the air and terminating the relationship with Saudi Arabia, not just because of the huge number of British jobs that depend on it but also because if you exert influence over your partners you need to be able to talk to them,” he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
The government has come under pressure from Labour and the Liberal Democrats to ban arms sales to the kingdom but Raab insisted the UK’s export regime was “one of the most rigorous” in the world.
“The problem with Labour’s position is it would cost thousands of British jobs. So, what we would rather do is support the investigation, find out what happened.”
Turkish government sources have claimed that Khashoggi, a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government, was tortured and murdered by a hit squad flown in from Riyadh.
The Saudis initially dismissed the allegations as baseless, without providing an explanation as to how the Washington Post columnist disappeared after entering the consulate on October 2.
A number of Saudi nationals have since been arrested while deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, a senior aide to the Crown Prince, have been dismissed, state TV reported.
Saudi Arabia is the UK’s key ally in the region and also a significant trading partner.
Britain rolled out the red carpet for the Crown Prince in March.
During his state visit he was granted rare access to a briefing on foreign policy issues by national security officials alongside his meetings with the Queen and Mrs May.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is considering the “next steps” in Britain’s response to the case.
Hunt has previously warned there will be “consequences” for the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia if it was found the journalist was murdered.