Britain’s secret intelligence service, MI6, has challenged the government’s claim that a major corruption inquiry into Saudi Arabian arms deals was threatening national security.
The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, told parliament before Christmas that the intelligence agencies “agreed with the assessment” of Tony Blair that national security was in jeopardy because the Saudis intended to pull out of intelligence cooperation with Britain. But John Scarlett, the head of MI6, has now refused to sign up to a government dossier which says MI6 endorses this view.
Whitehall sources have told the Guardian that the statement to the Lords was incorrect. MI6 and MI5 possessed no intelligence that the Saudis intended to sever security links. The intelligence agencies had been merely asked whether it would be damaging to UK national security if such a breach did happen. They replied that naturally it would.
The issue has now come to a head because ministers are under pressure at an international meeting today to justify why they terminated an important corruption investigation into the arms company BAE Systems.
In a controversial move last month, Tony Blair ordered the Serious Fraud Office inquiry to be halted, and said he took the responsibility for doing so, after BAE lobbied him that it might otherwise lose a lucrative Saudi order for more arms sales. The decision was condemned by MPs and anti-corruption campaigners, and is now the subject of an inquiry by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is responsible for rooting out corruption around the world. Britain signed up to its anti-bribery convention which made the payment of bribes a specific criminal offence under UK law in 2002.