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Good riddance to Theresa May’s ghastly Middle East legacy Open in fullscreen

Tallha Abdulrazaq

Good riddance to Theresa May’s ghastly Middle East legacy

May stepped down after failing to persuade MPs to support her Brexit deal [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 May, 2019

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Comment: May will not just be remembered for her failure to conduct an orderly Brexit, but for how she failed the common people at home and abroad, writes Tallha Abdulrazaq.
After clinging onto power almost obscenely despite the public and her own party wanting her to leave for years, Theresa May's grip has finally slipped, casting her career as British prime minister over the cliff's edge. 

In a teary-eyed address in front of Number 10 that ended in a shuddering sob, May said that it had been the "honour of my life" to serve as prime minister and listed a number of measly "achievements" she was proud of.

However, when one hears about some of those achievements and assesses the rest of her three-year tenure as prime minister, all sympathy for her swiftly evaporates.

Middle East policy bereft of conscience

For a start, Theresa May played quite a destructive role when in came to the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen relentlessly for years ever since Operation Decisive Storm, as the military intervention is known in Riyadh, was launched in 2015.

Leading a coalition of nine countries from the Middle East and Africa – including now-besieged and ostracised Qatar – Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen on behalf of the internationally recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi who had been ousted by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The Houthis and their links to Iran created an unacceptable risk to Saudi's southern borders, triggering the attack.

Nevertheless, the Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly been involved in deadly airstrikes against civilian targets, all while May's government paid the barest of lip service to encouraging the warring parties to do the obvious and not kill children.

Since the campaign began four years ago, the British government has licensed £4.7 billion worth of arms to the Saudi government, including attack helicopters, warplanes, drones, bombs and missiles.

Since the campaign began four years ago, the British government has licensed £4.7 billion worth of arms to the Saudi government, including attack helicopters, warplanes, drones, bombs and missiles

This UK-backed air campaign has cost more than 8,000 Yemeni civilian lives, tragically blotting out of existence 801 women and 1,283 children.

While Saudi Arabia certainly is not the only actor covered in blood – Iran is and always has been a key instigator of that conflict – it is certainly the main beneficiary of British arms exports, alongside its close ally, the United Arab Emirates. In fact, British and American bombs sold to the coalition have contributed to the killing and maiming of 1,000 civilians. It is therefore impossible to absolve May and her predecessor David Cameron of responsibility for such catastrophic and avoidable loss of life.

Even the brazen and horrific slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year failed to awaken any human conscience within May's hypocritical administration.

Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, with leaked information variously saying that he was either dismembered and removed piece by piece, or he was dissolved in a chemical vat, or a combination and variations of the above.

Although US President Donald Trump still supports Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MbS], the CIA have pointed the finger at him and his men, blaming them directly for the murder.

Still, May's government barely wagged a finger of admonishment at MbS while continuing to provide him with vast quantities of arms and armaments and continuing to engage with him as if he did not just order the death of a defenceless journalist and lie through his teeth about it.

May's government barely wagged a finger of admonishment at MbS while continuing to provide him with vast quantities of arms and armaments 

Brexit, Grenfell and the Windrush generation

Domestically, Theresa May failed to deliver a Brexit that pleased either Remainers or even Brexiteers. Absolutely no one was happy with the Brexit deal she hashed out with EU negotiators leading to three separate parliamentary votes all of which repeatedly told her "NO" in no uncertain terms. Still, May was deaf to both parliament and the nation, and doggedly attempted to get her deal through.

Even at the eleventh hour of her time as prime minister, May tried to add further concessions, including a vote on whether a second referendum should be held. This, however, just showed how desperate she was to stay in office and ultimately caused key Tories to show her the door.

May's legacy will not solely be a failure to conduct an orderly Brexit for the country, but also in how she failed the common people.

What is interesting is how she did nothing to hold the incredibly rich companies who used shoddy and illegal materials in the first place just to cut corners

Astonishingly, May mentioned as one of her "achievements" that she had been the one to launch an independent inquiry into the tragic deaths of 72 residents of Grenfell Tower in London in 2017. But did she really have any choice in the matter? Who else would not have done the exact same thing? After all, dozens of people were incinerated in that blaze, and countless more affected by the aftermath.

What is interesting is how she did nothing to hold the incredibly rich companies who used shoddy and illegal materials in the first place just to cut corners. These greedy corporations put hundreds of lives at risk and their decision led to the deaths of dozens in fires that could have been easily avoided.

To date, no one has been held truly accountable for prioritising profits over ethics and morality. While May says that the victims of Grenfell are "never forgotten", it certainly seems like she forgot all about them apart from a brief mention in her farewell speech.

And, of course, how can we forget the Windrush scandal? In 2010, and while still home secretary, May introduced the "hostile environment policy" in an attempt to make Britain as unwelcome as possible to people without leave to remain in the country.

This policy took on monstrously racist form as its enforcers ultimately ended up illegally detaining people, denying them their legal rights, and threatening them with deportation. In fact, 83 people from the Afro-Caribbean community were wrongfully deported and who were targeted in the name of keeping Britain British. The strict definition of that "Britishness" eludes us to this day.

So while her tears still dry off the paving slabs of Downing Street, spare a thought to the gallons of tears innocent people around the world and in Britain have shed as a result of Theresa May's policies and non-existent leadership.


Tallha Abdulrazaq is a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. His research focuses on Middle Eastern security and counter-terrorism issues. 

Follow him on Twitter: @thewarjournal

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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