Former UK Minister of Defense and Commerce: Saudi Progress is “Astonishing”

“New Iraqi Bill that Punishes Who Calls for Arab-Israeli Peace with Death is Dreadful”

MP Liam Fox in his office in the British Parliament
MP Liam Fox in his office in the British Parliament

Former UK Minister of Defense and Commerce: Saudi Progress is “Astonishing”

Liam Fox, a member of the British House of Commons of the Conservative Party, and head of the Abrahamic Accords Group in the United Kingdom, held high positions in the British government and chaired the Conservative Party.

In the government of John Major, he served as Lord Commissioner to the Treasury and chaired the Conservative Party under Prime Minister David Cameron. In the government of Theresa May, he served as Minister of Defense from 2016-2019, then as Secretary of State for International Trade from July 2016 till July 2019.

As one of Britain's leading political figures, Fox spent several years ensuring that trade in the UK continued before and after Brexit. He was known for his support for charitable foundations, women's rights and peace between the Arabs and the Israeli people.

During an interview with Al-Majalla in his office in the British Parliament, the former British Minister of Defense and Trade presented his impressions about his visit a few weeks ago to Riyadh and the reasons for his imminent return to visit Saudi Arabia. He also stressed that the Neom project is very exciting end expressed his hope that British Saudi companies will play their role in this. He also sent a message to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman saying, "You are at your highest level, keep going."

The doctor and former British minister presented a substantive criticism of the new Iraqi parliament project that punishes anyone who calls for Arab-Israeli peace with the death penalty. Fox considered the idea of ​​the legislation appalling, stressing that Iran is behind it as it is the malign influence in the region.

Regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war, Fox expressed his concerns about the aggravation of the situation in Ukraine and the danger of exporting famine to the developing world, stressing his condemnation of Putin's actions. He also said that he used the same way as Stalin using famine as a weapon in Ukraine. The following is the text of the interview:

1. Why did you choose to introduce the Down Syndrome Act of 2022?

Well, for a number of reasons. Partly personal experience. When I was growing up, the boy next door had Down's syndrome. As a doctor, I saw lots of patients and families of those with Down's Syndrome. As a member of Parliament, I've helped a lot of families in my area deal with not just the health issues or education issues, but the long-term care issues. And that, maybe, was the greatest driver of all, because we know with increased life expectancy that this is probably the first generation of people with Down syndrome who will outlive their parents.

And that's a huge worry for parents. You know what's going to happen when I'm not there. If there's any point in having a parliament and democratic representation, it is to try to deal with crises before they happen.

So I think that the legislation that we brought will concentrate the minds of healthcare providers and education providers and local authorities to ensure that we make the provisions necessary to provide continuity and so that people can live with the independence and the dignity that the rest of us take for granted.

2. Turning to the Abrahamic Agreements, what do you think are the UK's greatest achievements to date, and do you think they can be extended and replicated in other EU countries? If so, which EU country do you think might be next?

Well, of course, the European Union operates a foreign policy rather than other European countries that don't have their own foreign policy the way we do, and we're outside the European Union.

But I would have hoped that what the Abraham Accords would do would be to show that there's another way of thinking about the wider Middle East, that we can't have everything held to ransom purely by the Israeli Palestinian situation, and that we need to think of ways in which we can spread prosperity and stability more widely throughout the region.

I'm a great believer that if people have greater prosperity, then it opens up new political potential solutions.

That's what I see as the greatest advantage. If you can extend not just from the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, but if you can involve countries like Jordan and Egypt, then you can see how the dynamic starts to change over time.

I entirely understand the reasons why Saudi Arabia doesn't feel at the moment that it's able to join it.

But I think that it's in the interests of everybody in the region that the project succeeds.

MP Liam Fox with Mr Mustafa El-Dessouki

3. What other countries do you think will benefit the future of the Palestinians if they join the peace club of the Abrahamic Accords?

Well, again, it's not just peace. I think that what we have to show is that the Abraham Accords can produce tangible benefits in terms of living standards and opportunity, particularly for young men, but also young women.

And to ensure that by giving them a greater stake economically, that they are more invested in wanting to ensure political stability from which peace comes. I've long taken the view that people who have nothing to lose will gamble with it.

But if someone has a stake, then they'll be much more circumspect about how the political environment that they live in develops. And I hope that when people see that increasing prosperity and increasing political stability improves the general well-being of the countries involved, that others will come knocking at the door.

It's not something that I think that we should be trying to force other countries into. It should be something that is so successful and so tangibly beneficial that other countries, as I say, come knocking at the door to join.

4. What is the most important advantage that Sharaka has established between you and a group of ambitious youth from the Gulf, as well as the cooperation with Jared Kushner?

Well, I think, again, it's about getting the message to young people. They will be the ones who will determine the future. They'll be the ones who will have to live in whatever world we start to build for them today. And getting young people to understand that they can coexist peacefully with people with very different views, with different religious beliefs and no religious beliefs in some cases and recognize that they can work together to build the kind of Stability, the institutions, the trust that are essential prerequisites for all of these things.

I think that's for us, that's what that relationship really started to build. I hope we can build further on that so that we can have the next generation that doesn't grow up with some of the same prejudices and divisions that afflicted previous.

I think the sort of changes that are taking place in Saudi Arabia are indicative of that same trend. Let's get the next generation to think outwards. Let's get them to think forwards about their place in the world and how they can help shape the world around them.

5. As a former Minister of International Trade under Theresa May’s government and one of the advocates for the SheTrades initiative of the International Trade Centre, do you think the World Trade Organization plays its role in coordinating trade and development policy and what do you think the organization’s disadvantages, especially that you were one of the most prominent candidates for its management?

Well, I think that the biggest problem that the WTO faces is a self-induced one, which is that they have come to interpret the term consensus as meaning unanimity.

If they meant the same thing, there wouldn't be two different words for them. And effectively now what we've got is a situation where pretty much any of the members can veto any move forward.

That's clearly not what the those who set up the WTO wanted. And I think the consequence of that will be that you'll get fewer global agreements and you'll get more agreements by those who might call economically the coalition of the willing, to borrow the phrase, who want to work together in specific areas, for example, in green technology or in e-commerce, some of these areas on service liberalization.

So I think that's the biggest weakness. I think that the free trade initiative was really important because I think, again, if you want people to share in the prosperity that can come from free trade, it's got to be all the people. A country that doesn't see the advantage that women can bring to the economy, economies that don't fully utilize the talents of women in their economy, their creativity, their innovation, their education are denying themselves a major tool in improving their economic performance.

So getting more women to be involved, we know that where women are more involved in economies, there is also greater political stability. Because back to my point about having a share in that prosperity, the more widely you can share that prosperity. I have to say, in my time in politics, I have never known men to have a monopoly on wisdom or good policymaking.

6. As we celebrate the achievements of the Abrahamic Accords, you may have heard about the new bill currently being passed through the Iraqi parliament that calls for the death penalty to anyone who wants to cooperate or work with the Israelis or calls for peace. What do you want the UK and other countries to do to combat and stifle this bill from becoming law? How do you think this will affect the ability of countries to cooperate with Iraq on the commercial and military level if this bill is enacted?

Well, I think it's a dreadful and ghastly idea. And it goes against the trend of what everyone else in the region is trying to do, which is to have greater commitment to peace, greater commitment to dialogue.

You know, if I was being suspicious, I would see the hand of Iran behind this. Iran, as we all know, has long interfered in Iraqi politics. Iran is the malevolent influence in the region. Its biggest export is terrorism. I would be strongly suspicious that there was an Iranian hand in this. I think it's a great pity, because I think most of the people of Iraq would want to live in peace and cooperation with their neighbors and would like to see greater regional stability. So I think that this is a pretty tragic path for any country to want to take.

And I hope that those with good sense and those with sound consciences will reject it. 

MP Liam Fox and Laura Roberts, Executive Director of UK Abraham Accords Group, meeting with King of Bahrain during a visit by parliamentary delegation from The UK Abraham Accords Group last April.

7. As a former defense minister, how do you see the situation between Ukraine and Russia, and are you with Britain's provision of military support to Ukraine? What is the impact of the war on security and development in Europe in particular?

Well, I think that the first thing to say is that this is a war of choice. Vladimir Putin chose to attack Ukraine, which posed no threat whatsoever to Russian security. I think the actions of Putin and his acolytes have plumbed the depths of inhumanity. I think his lust for violence is animal in nature.

I think watching the barbarity being visited on the people of Ukraine is a truly shocking thing to witness in the 21st century. We need to make it very clear that this is completely unacceptable.

I think that the way that the international community has stood firm against Russia, or at least most of the global community has done so, is necessary. Our biggest problem now is that not only has he visited violence on men, women and children in Ukraine, but by blockading Ukraine, he is in danger of exporting a famine, especially to the developing world, in the way that Stalin used famine as a weapon in Ukraine itself. It is a dreadful human tragedy, but perhaps more than that, it's a monumental human crime.

8. During your tenure as Minister of Defense under Prime Minister David Cameron, you supervised a major reorganization of the Ministry of Defense and Britain’s participation in the campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya. What do you think of the situation in Libya and Afghanistan now? And after all these years, do you think that the campaigns in Libya and Afghanistan were successful and achieved their goals?

The campaign in Libya was primarily to avoid humanitarian disaster which was Gadhafi forces moving against the civilian population that was close to successful. I would say that the failure in Libya has been in the aftermath and the lack of cohesion for a fall through plan but we have seen that awful. I think that where we do see failure is often that the political plan is not there to follow through on the military plan, so that the fragmentation and the lack of progress is a great shame primarily for the Libyan people themselves.

In terms of Afghanistan, well the initial aim of Afghanistan was achieved which was to deny the power to those who had given assistance to Al Qaeda in developing the plans and capabilities that ultimately led to the 9/11. Again the complication is in the follow-through period but there is no doubt that in the aftermath of that we saw a great improvement in the prosperity and the stability and the freedoms of people in Afghanistan.

Actually, having myself visited schools, I have been across the country to a lot of places where conditions clearly were much better.

I think that the rise and the freedom of women have massively improved. But what we have seen is the Taliban going back step by step to the old ways to their very regressive anti-women thinking.

I think that if you look across the Gulf and you see countries like Saudi Arabia or the UAE and you see the tremendous improvement there in conditions and rights for women that have been gradually ruled out, you see that Afghanistan under the Taliban is ruling back into history rather than progressing into the future.


9. In July 2018, “Give Us Time” charity was set up to provides family leave to those who serve in the armed forces, especially those who witnessed the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is the fate of this institution now and what are its main achievements?

It is now going from strength to strength of course, the pandemic was a terrible setback for us because we were unable to do many of the things we wanted, and we set up the charity specifically to be a low-cost charity because of the experiences that the further you go from a conflict the less the public remember it and the less they are likely to be financially supportive.

What we did was to ask people with a holiday home or a second home or a tiny share and ask the holiday companies who get the capacity to give it to us, and we gave it to families whose member have been involved in the conflict. The reason for that was when I was a doctor that worked for the army, people tended to forget the impact that active service had on families.

We got lots of charities that are about service personnel, help for use and so on, but often it is the families that carry the burden. You know if you are five or six and your daddy is being away for six months, it can be a long time and often you know there is trauma in the family and we want to give them quality time to get their families back together.

This year we will be sending a record number of families away which, given all the difficulties of pandemic, is a tremendous testament to the amazing staff we have and the work that they do.

10. How do you see the media’s discourse which incites against peace and the promotion of civil participation amongst people, especially the Arab/Israeli partnership?

Well, everybody who has a position of authority, has a responsibility. All power and all influence bring with it responsibility and our responsibility is to promote peace, to promote understanding and mutual cooperation.

I think all of us have a duty to call out those people who misuse that responsibility for negative personal political reasons. I think that those TV channels such as you mention also have a responsibility to ensure that they are not willfully or inadvertently helping those who are promoting division and violence. They cannot go without being held liable for the messages that they transmit.

11. Finally, what message would you like to send to Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is striving with all his energy and power to combat extremism, the reforms and changes he has accomplished and continues to undertake, and his vision of opening up to the world?

It is astonishing when you visit Saudi Arabia and I have had just a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t believe the proliferation of cinemas, Starbucks, KFCs, not necessarily good for your health all of these things but nonetheless signs of change.

People being out in the street mixing. It was just a positive change but more than that the vision of what technology can do. The whole Neom project I think is tremendously exciting not just in itself for what it may be able to achieve but it is a sign to everybody about what can happen and I hope that British companies will play their role in that because the more that we can develop new technologies together, the more we will share in the social profits that will come from that, so I am enormously heartened by it and what I would say is you are at your highest, keep going.

12. Do you intend to visit Saudi Arabia soon?

I do, I have got a couple of British companies who really want to take part in the Neom project and I think they have got great technological ideas that may be excellent partners so I do intend to it. In the past, I am going to re-add, it was a very different experience from today with the exception of the traffic.

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