Under this deal, Saudi Arabia agreed in 1985 to buy from BAE Systems, Britain's biggest military contractor, 72 Tornados and 30 Hawk fighter aircraft, plus a further 48 Tornados in 1993. This year Saudi Arabia agreed to pay £10 billion for 72 aircraft, part of a package that was expected to grow. The agreement has kept BAE in business for 20 years.
However, Saudi displeasure and British loss of nerve has resulted in a spectacular climb-down: following a Saudi threatened rupture of ties and loss of future contracts (worth £2.5 annually), the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, has announced the suspension of the SFO's investigation. The SFO says it called off its investigation after representations made"both to the Attorney General and the Director [of the SFO] concerning the need to safeguard national and international security … It has been necessary to balance the need to maintain the rule of law against the wider public interest."
That is a statement of forensic significance. The rule of law is the special achievement of democratic society and its purpose, among other things, has always been the protection of what the SFO calls"the wider public interest." How is it possible, then, that protection of the"wider public interest" is now deemed to lie in the suspension of the rule of law under foreign pressure?
More detail of this disquieting episode is available on Pryce-Jones' blog.