'A UK diplomat is working for the firm behind a multimillion pound Saudi PR drive while still employed by the Foreign Office, it has been revealed. It comes as Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince prepares for his trip to Britain.
Jolyon Welsh, whose Foreign Office roles have included deputy head of Middle East, was given special unpaid leave in 2014 to become a senior director of Consulum, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The communications firm was founded by former executives from Bell Pottinger, the agency that collapsed last year after a scandal over a campaign for South Africa’s Gupta family.
Consulum’s client list includes Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, widely known as MBS. He is Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, whose state visit to the UK starts this Wednesday amid controversy over his country’s military campaign in Yemen. Saudi-led coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians and, at one point, sealed off the state to humanitarian access.
Sealing off the borders and ports prevented aid access to the poverty-stricken nation, exacerbating the cholera crisis that has so far affected 31,421 of Yemenis. According to the UN more than 9,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Yemen. More than 52,000 have also been injured in the fighting since the war began in March 2015.
The Bureau reports that Welsh has at least some involvement with the Saudi account. The fact he is involved at all underscores the close ties between London and Riyadh, as permission to work for a private firm is only given if “directly and closely related to a specific FCO area of interest [and] in line with our strategic priorities.”
Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, a member of the Commons committee on Arms Export Controls, told the Bureau: “It’s one thing for the Foreign Office to provide political cover for the Saudis’ assault on Yemen, which defies all notions of proportionality and which I believe in several cases constitutes war crimes. It’s quite another for the FCO to have lent its staff to a company working for the Saudis’ PR operation.”'
Read more: Senior British diplomat working at firm behind Saudi PR offensive
Mohammad Bin Salman: 'Bizarre' PR drive launched by Saudi Crown Prince's backers in face of UK protests over Yemen war
'Backers of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince have launched a “bizarre” public relations drive to improve his image, as he is accused of waging a bloody war in Yemen ahead of an official visit to the UK..
Mohammad bin Salman will be met by both Theresa May and the Queen, but also by protests and anger which Labour’s Emily Thornberry said is about air-strikes on Yemeni civilians, “killing and injuring hundreds”.
But anticipating bad publicity, the Saudi regime’s supporters are pushing back – sending digital poster vans around London and even purchasing advertising that appeared next to Ms Thornberry’s attack article in the press.
Theresa May has said she will raise “deep concerns” over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, but the red-carpet treatment for the Prince indicates the UK is concerned about keeping his favour with billions of pounds of post-Brexit trade at stake.
In a piece in The Guardian, Shadow Foreign Secretary Ms Thornberry wrote that the three-day visit showed the Government “doesn’t care a jot about human rights.”
She went on: “Today the architect of that Saudi intervention in Yemen – Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – will visit Britain, and will receive the red carpet treatment from the Tory government, as if he were Nelson Mandela.
“This is the man behind the rolling blockade of Yemen’s rebel-held ports, preventing the supply of essential food, medicine and fuel to Yemeni civilians, and – on all the available evidence – breaching international law by using starvation as a weapon of war.”'
Read more: Mohammad Bin Salman: 'Bizarre' PR drive launched by Saudi Crown Prince's backers in face of UK protests over Yemen war