Why protests against Trump should be widened to change current UK foreign policy

by Mark Curtis

I completely support the protests and opposition to Trump. At the same time, the British government in its foreign policy is now operating outside of any serious democratic control, and is:

  • promoting covert wars in seven countries
  • violating international law in several areas
  • regularly lying to parliament on its actions
  • deepening alliances with many of the most repressive states in the world.

In this situation, we cannot focus attention solely or overwhelmingly on the US.

Covert wars

Britain is fighting at least seven covert wars in the Middle East and North Africa, outside of democratic oversight or control. Documented here[1], the countries are: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. UK covert forces are reportedly operating in and around these countries and there is UK involvement in covert drone strikes in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.

Whitehall has in effect gone underground, with neither parliament nor the public being allowed to debate, scrutinise or even know about these wars.

Lying to parliament

To cover themselves, Ministerial answers to parliamentary questions are regularly resorting to lying and/or giving misleading responses to the country’s elected representatives, about what the government is authorising. To cite just some examples:

  • Throughout 2016 and 2017, the government has on several occasions claimed that the UK is ‘not a party’ to the conflict in Yemen.[2] This claim is untrue, as noted further below.
  • In January 2017, MOD Minister Mike Penning failed to state in answer to a parliamentary question on UK military operations in Libya that the UK has covert forces operating in the country.[3]
  • In December 2016, FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood gave an answer to a parliamentary question on human rights in Egypt that is so at odds with the true situation that it was surely misleading.[4] Ministerial answers routinely give similar replies on other UK-favoured states abusing human rights: this is not just spin, it is omitting obvious facts and deliberately misleading.
  • It was first reported in May 2016 that British troops were secretly engaged in combat in Libya. This news came two days after Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told MPs that Britain was not planning ‘any kind of combat role’ to fight Islamic State in Libya.[5]
  • In July 2015, Defence Minister Earl Howe told Parliament that the government ‘would seek further Parliamentary approval before UK aircraft conducted air strikes in Syria’. This was untrue – British aircraft were already secretly striking Islamic State targets in Syria.[6]
  • In June 2015, Michael Fallon told MPs that the UK had ‘begun’ training Syrian forces in bases outside Syria. In fact, this programme reportedly started three years earlier. [7]

Violating international law

The UK is violating and/or facilitating the violation of international law in various situations, rendering it a rogue state. (See here for references [8])

  • UK policy is allowing trade with ‘Israeli’ goods from illegal settlements in the occupied territories, acquiescing in which is a violation of international law.
  • The UK has recently been conducting exercises with the Israeli Navy, which is illegally blockading Gaza.
  • SAS forces have reportedly been secretly deployed to Libya since the beginning of 2016, violating UN Resolution 1970 of 2011 which requires an arms embargo on the country, including the provision of technical assistance and training.
  • The UK is clearly a party to the Saudi war in Yemen (in terms of its military role and export of arms) and thus implicated in the violations of humanitarian law of which Saudi Arabia is accused. UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are also illegal in that they fuel war crimes and human rights violations and thus violate the legally-binding international Arms Control Treaty.
  • The RAF’s secret drone war, which involves a fleet of Reaper drones, operates in several countries (noted above) while the UK also provides communications networks to the CIA without which the US would not be able to fully operate this programme. As argued by the NGO, Reprieve, the programme is illegal.[9]

Alliances with repressive states

The deepening of relations with highly repressive states abusing human rights has been widely commented on, notably Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, and Israel. In these cases, the UK has often been signing new trade deals, agreeing new arms exports, and apologising for the regimes. While these repressive states are traditional British allies, there is no doubt that relations have deepened in recent months. The government is even seeking new trade opportunities with Sudan[10], whose regime has perpetrated genocidal mass murder and whose President is subject to an international arrest warrant[11].

Where usually very mild public statements of concern have been given about some of these countries’ human rights abuses, for example Israel, Egypt and Bahrain, they have not been followed by any noticeable pressure by the UK government to bring about change. Indeed, the UK is not seriously interested in change, it supports those regimes and issues fake criticisms of them surely designed to placate public opinion.


[1] http://markcurtis.info/2016/10/14/britains-seven-covert-wars/

[2] See http://markcurtis.info/2016/10/14/britains-seven-covert-wars/; http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2017-01-06/58670/;

[3] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2017-01-06/58697/

[4] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2016-12-15/57862/

[5] See http://markcurtis.info/2016/10/14/britains-seven-covert-wars/

[6] http://markcurtis.info/2016/08/22/we-know-about-the-lies-over-iraq-but-what-about-syria/

[7] http://markcurtis.info/2016/08/22/we-know-about-the-lies-over-iraq-but-what-about-syria/

[8] http://markcurtis.info/2017/01/23/britains-violations-of-international-law/

[9] http://markcurtis.info/2016/10/14/britains-seven-covert-wars/

[10] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Lords/2017-01-16/HL4650/

[11] https://www.icc-cpi.int/darfur/albashir

1 comment

  1. However grievous his faults, Trump has apparently rejected the War Party’s programme of infinite aggressive wars and “covert actions”. This has not been matched by the UK’s rulers,and there has been narry a whisper in the MSM to pick up Trump’s remark that NATO is obsolete. As Michael Moore and others have suggested, Blair’s complicity, if not prompting, could have been the deciding factor in Dubya’s attack n Iraq. Long after Chilcot, Balir still walks free.
    Our tragedy here has been that “New Labour” has been as bloodthirsty in its “interventionism” as the Tories. Sending “our boys” thousands of miles to kill infidels has never been an prerogative of the Rabid Right; Corbyn now offers us a decent alternative ,with, however,the whole MSM howling for his blood. Hysteria rules, o.k. ?

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