The British MP who became Saudi Arabia’s most devoted supporter

Daniel Kawczynski boasted that he had done more to promote Saudi Arabia than any other British MP

Daniel Kawczynski is the member of parliament for Shrewsbury in England, though he is jokingly known as the member for Riyadh. “I feel passionately about Saudi Arabia,” he told the House of Commons during a debate in 2011. “I have been battling against extraordinary ignorance about — and prejudice against — Saudi Arabia for many years.”

Kawczynski, who is on the far right of the Conservative party, blamed some of this “prejudice” against the kingdom on leftists. “We have a Guardian-reading liberal elite who want to denigrate Saudi Arabia at every opportunity,” he said. “The BBC, with its left-wing bias and determination not to report anything positive from Saudi Arabia, also contributes to the extraordinary drip, drip effect of negative press that it gets in this country.”

Much to his disappointment, though, many of his fellow Conservatives also have an unfavourable view of the kingdom. “There is tremendous anger and hostility towards Saudi Arabia in this country,” he continued. “On one occasion I was sitting in the Smoking Room [in the House of Commons] waiting for a vote, and I asked 15 Tory MPs what their views were on Saudi Arabia, and every single one made very hostile statements about the country. That really upset me, and I did not understand it.”

Since becoming an MP in 2005, Kawczynski has acquired a reputation as the most outspokenly pro-Saudi member of the British parliament.

Deadly airstrikes

During a Commons debate in 2016 he dismissed allegations of war crimes by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen. Three weeks earlier, airstrikes had targeted a large funeral gathering in the Yemeni capital, killing at least 140 people and injuring more than 500.

Above: picture posted on Twitter which is said to show the funeral gathering before the attack. Below: the hall after the attack.

The growing number of civilian casualties in the Yemen war — many of them apparently resulting from Saudi carelessness — prompted calls for Britain and the US to halt arms sales to the kingdom. In parliament, though, Kawczynski said he had received assurances from the head of the Saudi air force that “they are doing everything possible to try to limit civilian casualties”. He added that he took “great pride” in the fact that Britain’s RAF was helping to train the Saudi pilots.

In the same debate Kawczynski claimed that Saudi Arabia had no previous history of intervention in Yemen — which was especially strange because the Saudis have been meddling in the country, politically and sometimes militarily, almost continuously since the 1930s.

Support for Saudi prisons

Justice in Saudi Arabia is brutal and often arbitrary but that didn’t discourage Kawczynski from wanting Britain to help with the kingdom’s prisons. In an effort to generate extra revenue, the British government had decided that its expertise in running prisons could be sold to other countries, and discussions started about a £5.9 million contract with the Saudis.

News of the prospective deal came to light while a 74-year-old British man was imprisoned in the kingdom and facing 350 lashes for possessing home-made wine — prompting the government to change its mind about the prisons contract. In the House of Commons, when a Conservative colleague welcomed the decision to pull out of the deal, Kawczynski responded with fury, slapping his forehead and shouting “No!”

Trips to Saudi Arabia

Kawczynski visited Saudi Arabia in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2017 on trips funded by the Saudi government at a total estimated cost of well over £20,000.

According to the parliamentary register, Kawczynski’s other free trips — mostly funded by foreign governments — have taken him to Belgium, Gibraltar, India, Israel, Jersey, Lebanon, Mauritania (twice), Morocco, Norfolk Island (Australia), Oman, Poland, Qatar, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.

The anti-Qatar conference that Kawczynski helped to organise was sparsely attended

In 2017, during a quarrel between the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Kawczynski sided with the Saudis and helped to organise an anti-Qatar conference in London.

The conference proved to be a hugely expensive flop but Kawczynski was paid £15,000 for his efforts which, according to the parliamentary register, consumed 48 hours of his time — an hourly rate of £312.50.

In 2019 Saudi businessman Mazen Al Sawwaf gave him a £1,300 ticket to Royal Ascot — one of the highlights of the horse-racing calendar where the upper classes dress in their finery and compete to be noticed.

A book about Gaddafi

For a while Kawczynski also took an interest in Libya. He authored a book, Seeking Gaddafi, which was published in 2010. An organisation called the Conservative Arab Network ( not officially connected with the Conservative Party) chipped in with £2,498.33 to cover the cost of a launch party, though reviewers of the book were far less generous.

A review in The Telegraph complained about the book’s “pious platitudes” and Kawczynski’s rather limited sources: “His verbatim reporting of what Libyans have to say is confined to a businessman and a dissident living in London. The rest of his account is almost entirely second-hand.” On Amazon one reader described it as “shallow” and another as “a dull and uninformed read”.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the book was Kawczynski’s research method, which the Guido Fawkes website described as “content harvesting”. According to the website, which specialises in Westminster gossip, Kawczynski had advertised for interns and those lucky enough to be interviewed were “asked to write a 5,000-word essay on a particular Gaddafi-related angle.” It added: “Those subjects bear an uncanny resemblance to the ‘Seeking Gaddafi’ chapter list.”

Call to restore Libya’s monarchy

In 2011, with Gaddafi gone, Kawczynski began promoting Mohammed El-Senussi, the self-styled Crown Prince of Libya, as a possible replacement.

“He is a close personal friend of mine. I believe him to be a man of great integrity and honour,” Kawczynski told parliament. He said he was “very concerned” that Libya’s National Transitional Council had opted for a republican system without giving serious consideration to restoring the monarchy. “Many of the monarchies throughout the Arab world have not had the levels of instability that other Arab countries have had. The monarch is very important in this regard.”

Senussi’s claim to the Libyan throne came up again a few days later during a visit to Saudi Arabia, where Kawczynski was heading a delegation of British MPs. An account of the trip posted on Kawczynski’s website described a meeting with Prince Turki al-Faisal, the kingdom’s former intelligence chief:

“Daniel [Kawczynski] started the meeting by thanking Prince Turki for receiving the delegation and then made the observation that across the Arab world, monarchies have provided the most stable countries. On Libya, Prince Turki was asked for his views on the restoration of the monarchy, specifically Crown Prince Mohammed.”

According to the account, Prince Turki replied with a general spiel about the benefits of monarchy but offered no opinion about Senussi or the specific case of Libya.

Earning money on the side

Aside from the Middle East and his work as an MP, Kawczynski has earned money from various consultancy roles, including £30,000 from a mining company called Tigris Financial (at a rate of £320 per hour); £4,500 from Coventry-based CGI Consulting (for 24 hours’ work) and £2,000 from Chelgate, a PR company (for five hours’ work).

His most lucrative consultancy, though, was with the Electrum Group owned by US billionaire Thomas Kaplan. In 2018 Electrum began paying him £6,000 a month for whay was described as “an expected monthly commitment of 30 hours”. The effect of that over a full year would be to almost double the salary he was getting as an MP.

The money from Electrum appears to have dried up, however, and on Wednesday the Guardian reported that Kawczynski had hired a fixer to find consultancy work for him in the Middle East — preferably with a Saudi company. According to the Guardian, he was looking for a regular second income in order to pay school fees.

In WhatsApp messages Kawczynski urged the fixer to emphasise that he is “genuinely pro-Saudi” — adding that no one in the House of Commons had done more to promote Saudi Arabia during the last 12 years.

A Labour MP has now asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate whether Kawczynski’s activities have broken any of the rules regarding MPs’ conduct. Kawczynski maintains that they have not.

Originally published at https://al-bab.com.

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Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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Brian Whitaker

Brian Whitaker

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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