We have so far not heard a squeak from Number Ten in response to the Saudi Arms deal judgement in the High Court. We still don't know whether Gordon Brown will side with Tony Blair or do what's right. What we do know from this morning's papers is that the Conservatives are siding with the Government (despite not knowing what the government's position actually is). I am sorry they felt the need to say anything yet. Perhaps I am being too much of an idealist on this issue, but like Sam Leith in the Telegraph today I just do not buy the arguments here about the "national interest". As a country we are supposed to believe in freedom under the rule of law. Without the rule of law there can never be complete freedom. If the government decides that it will sidestep the rule of law on a big issue like this, it is open season for others to follow suit. And if the Opposition follows them in doing so, then are we to be surprised when people accuse politicians of being "all the same"? Leith writes...
'No one, whether within this country or outside is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice," is the ringing refrain of Lord Justice Moses's judgment on the Al-Yamamah fraud inquiry. It is a wonderfully fierce and lucid restatement of the principle of separation of powers and, in its context, an object reminder of why it is so important. It says, at root, that the law is the law: and that it operates independently of political convenience, diplomatic horse-trading, and calculations of personal or even national advantage. Bravo to that.
The argument for turning a blind eye to corruption in the arms trade is much the same as the one applied against closing tax avoidance loopholes for the super-rich. And it is, for all that it gets dressed up in the pompous language of international realpolitik, a playground argument: if we don't do it, someone else will.
If we didn't call off the dogs, we were told before the Serious Fraud Office's inquiry was halted, the Saudis would buy their fighter planes from France instead of us. So, for the greater good, we ought to let this one slide.
The problem with this reasoning is that by "recognising the reality" of corruption and conniving in it, you also perpetuate it. You forfeit not only your ability to talk without hoots of derision about an "ethical foreign policy" (remember that?), but any chance of applying pressure to others. "You go first" and "just this once" are shoddy principles on which to form policy.
Say you are a shopkeeper, caught selling a 14-year-old lad a two-litre bottle of White Lightning, some fireworks and a grab-bag of huffable solvents. What sort of defence is it to maintain that "everyone's doing it" and "he would have had got it from someone so it might as well be me"?
We recognise that excuse as pathetically childish and self-serving. So why, if the person concerned is an arms dealer, do we suddenly regard this as a sophisticated and hard-headed defence of British interests and a regrettable example of the way the world wags, but there it is old boy? Piffle, poppycock and monkey nuts.
I couldn't agree more.