With its newfound sense of moral outrage about Putin and his oligarchs, Boris Johnson and his government have switched its affections to an arguably even more brutal regime in Saudi Arabia.
The Prime Minister is today travelling to the oppressive kingdom to meet Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the hope he can persuade the Gulf state to increase its production of fuel supplies to make up for the UK and Europe’s reduced reliance on Russia and ‘outgun the Russians’. The fact that the Crown Prince is his regular WhatsApp buddy in the light of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and being the subject to several related lawsuits in the US is to my mind shameful and deeply disturbing.
James Cleverly said he does not know whether the country has yet condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but he and Boris Johnson must surely be aware that Saudi Arabia has lately executed a record 81 people in a single day for what they claim were terrorism-related offences, exceeding the total number killed in the whole of 2021 and sparking huge criticism from human rights activists. A total of 41 belonged to the Shia minority, seven Yemenis and one a Syrian national. That the UK is embarking on a haphazard and amoral - if not immoral - foreign and trade policy where one war crime is deemed to be acceptable and another is not, must concern us all.
The UN said in its statement: “Our monitoring indicates that some of those executed were sentenced to death following trials that did not meet fair trial and due process guarantees, and for crimes that did not appear to meet the most serious crimes threshold, as required under international law."
I suspect the moral argument against doing business with Saudi Arabia doesn't hold any sway with this Johnson - just look at his own government's advice about doing business with the Saudis where there is no mention of human rights so let us, then, consider the economic one.
In the UK, electricity and petrol prices currently swallow up over a quarter of the average household's outgoings – 27% of the average weekly wage. Inflation is set to rise to 7% in April. Consumers are suffering from the twin effects of energy suppliers collapsing and fuel prices escalating. However, people may be surprised to learn that it’s a money-spinner for the Exchequer, but, unlike so many of the Tory government's money-spinners, it is hitting the highest and lowest paid equally.
As of 14th March 2022, the fuel duty and VAT taxes account for 52% of the price of petrol and 50% of the price of diesel. These taxes generated £28bn in revenues to the Government in 2019-20 and that was before these latest price rises. In other words, if the average motorist spends £1,042 on petrol per year, the taxes charged on that are £600 per year.
Meanwhile, the average cost of a litre of petrol hit 163.5p last Sunday, while diesel was 173.4p with experts telling MPs that petrol prices could hit £2.50 a litre and diesel £3.
Actions not platitudes are needed now as people are facing questions about whether they eat or heat. When I visited Nottingham last month as part of my tour of England and Wales, I was dismayed to find 38% of children are living in poverty. I spoke to parents already fasting two days to week so their children could eat.
Sunak needs to act fast to subsidise lower-income households to cope with soaring home energy bills, amid a broader cost of living crisis. We believe they should bring back the Universal Credit uplift of £20 and for the lowest income households, provide an energy grant of £500, make a top -up Winter Heating Allowance for 2022 of £200; as well as cutting the overall fuel duty by 10% for 12 months.
Failure to act decisively could very well see our country go back to the 1970s with the Institute of Fiscal Studies estimating that as a result of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and the rising energy prices, average earners would be £800 a year worst of, compared to the Institute’s estimate last month of £300 a year due to the cost of living crisis.
The Chancellor should also suspend the April National Insurance increase as soaring fuel increases will also severely hit industries and employers, as diesel increases will impact transport – ships, trains, engines.
A sensible government, facing up to the profound economic hardship hitting millions of Britons, should be looking at shelving various taxes, and increasing specific allowances, rather than shelving our moral compass. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman surely cannot be the answer to the moral question that Putin has posed to the world.
In the short-term term the answer may well be a degree of petrol rationing alongside tax reliefs. in the medium term, we need to increase our investment in North Sea oil and gas, and in the longer term dramatically accelerate the shift from polluting fossil fuels to renewable energies to ensure energy security for the UK.
It is possible to manage the situation and achieve cheaper fuel prices without the need for Johnson to prostrate himself before another power hungry, tyrant. He need only wonder over to the house next door and ask Sunak if it really makes any sense to increase the tax burden on people when so many businesses and individuals are going to the wall. Whilst he’s there he could also ask Sunak if his billionaire father-in-law has withdrawn his businesses from Russia.
Gina Miller - Leader, True & Fair Party