LONDON // Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain on Monday criticised the breaching of “mutual respect” between the two countries, adding that the Gulf kingdom “will not be lectured to by anyone”.
Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf Bin Abdulaziz’s comments come after London cancelled a prison contract with Riyadh in what was widely seen as a reaction to a death penalty case and another involving an elderly Briton who faces 350 lashes.
"Over the past few weeks, there has been an alarming change in the way Saudi Arabia is discussed in Britain," the ambassador wrote in an article published on Monday by the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
The Saudi ambassador spoke of his country’s economic importance to Britain, and as an invaluable source of intelligence on the activities of terrorist groups.
“We want this relationship to continue, but we will not be lectured to by anyone,” Prince Mohammed said.
“To further our shared strategic interests in the years ahead as we confront a variety of threats, it is crucial that Saudi Arabia be treated with the respect it has unwaveringly afforded the United Kingdom.”
The ambassador’s blunt and public criticism is unusual for Saudi Arabia, which has in the past preferred closed-door diplomacy in its relations with allies.
The kingdom has become more vocal in recent years with the intensification of conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and in response to the US nuclear deal with Iran.
There has been growing concern in Britain over several Saudi human rights cases in the last few months.
The family of Karl Andree – a 74-year-old British man facing 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia after being caught with home-made wine – have pleaded for the government to intervene following reports that he is going to be flogged.
A prominent Saudi blogger has been sentenced to the same punishment.
The kingdom also plans to execute young pro-democracy activist Ali Al Nimr, who has been sentenced to death by crucifixion and beheading after taking part in anti-government protests when he was 17.
New leftist opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn raised Nimr’s case with prime minister David Cameron, urging him to intervene.
“One recent example of this mutual respect being breached was when Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the oppositin, claimed that he had convinced prime minister David Cameron to cancel a prison consultancy contract with Saudi Arabia,” Prince Mohammed wrote.
Saudi Arabia is Britain’s most important trade partner in the Middle East and was its biggest market for arms exports last year.
Mr Cameron also says Saudi Arabia is a key partner on security issues, and has claimed Saudi intelligence has helped saved British lives.
* Agence France-Presse and Reuters