The European Microscope for Middle East issues followed the repercussions of British media revealing an unprecedented diplomatic scandal for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, attempting to influence the policies of the United Kingdom and form a supportive lobby.
The European Microscope, an institution concerned with monitoring the interactions of Middle East issues in Europe, stated that Riyadh and Manama’s pursuit of establishing a group called “Friends of Conservatives in the Middle East” is an indication of the hidden diplomatic work to form lobby groups in favour of the two countries.
The Guardian published a report on the British Labor Party’s call for the dismissal of Ben Elliott, the Conservative Party leader, because he attempted to establish a group called “Friends of Conservatives in the Middle East”, with the support of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, amid accusations that the two countries interfere in the foreign relations of the United Kingdom.
Labor leader Annelies Dodds accused Elliot of being allowed to “blur the lines between private business activities and his public responsibility” in the latest twist in the saga over two rival groups of the Middle East Conservative Party.
Elliott has been criticized by those involved in the long-running Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) for the party’s attempts to found a new group called Conservative Friends of the Middle East and North Africa (Comena), led by one of its clients, Mohammed al-Amiri.
Charlotte Leslie, a former Conservative MP, accused Elliott of failing to disclose that Amersey was a client of his concierge firm, Quintessentially.
In particular, she criticized Elliott for not disclosing the working relationship when the Bahrain and Saudi Arabia ambassadors raised questions with the Conservative Party about the new Comena group.
However, Al-Amersi told the Guardian broader questions about why the Bahraini and Saudi ambassadors were pressuring Elliott on Tory matters.
He stated that Elliott was not acting on his behalf and that Comina was not affiliated with the party, as the group is still awaiting a decision on its future.
“To me, the only time Elliot has a conflict is when he sits on the party board that is deciding the affiliation. That is the place where he has to disclose I am a Quintessentially client and recuse himself,” he said.
“Insofar as his discussions go with sheikh Fawaz, the Bahraini ambassador, I have not seen the letter, so I cannot comment on the substance. I would say if sheikh Fawaz was simply seeking clarification on the status of affiliation of CMEC or Comena, that is a legitimate question. But if he is seeking to influence the process by which Comena can or cannot be affiliated, or how Comena is composed, then I believe that is undue influence by a foreign state.”
The FT revealed this week that sheikh Fawaz Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s ambassador to the UK, wrote to Elliot stating that he and some fellow Arab diplomats were concerned by plans for the Conservatives to consider affiliation for Comena, after CMEC decided to disaffiliate from the party.
The Tories’ existing liaison group, CMEC, had for 40 years “occupied a special place in politics between the Middle East and United Kingdom”, sheikh Fawaz wrote.
According to the FT, sheikh Fawaz signed off his letter to Elliot: “I hope these concerns will be addressed for the sake of diplomatic confidence in the party and its affiliated groups, which are stronger and more important than ever.”
Amersi and Leslie are engaged in a dispute after writing to the Conservative party to raise questions about his links with Russia.
Amersi, who along with his partner has given the Conservatives £750,000, has said he had conducted legitimate business deals approved by US and Russian regulators from 1997 to 2005.
The businessman says he is a dealmaker primarily in the international telecoms sector, who answered the Tories’ call for a new Middle East group to be affiliated to the party.
Amersi said he has now launched legal proceedings against Leslie and CMEC under data protection laws in an attempt to force her to disclose documents related to the dispute.
A Conservative party spokesperson said: “Ben Elliot’s work as Conservative party co-chairman is entirely separate from his other interests.
“Any discussions Ben Elliot has had about the Comena group would have been in his role as party co-chairman. The Conservative party has no involvement in foreign policy – that is a matter for the government.”
She added: “We completely reject the ludicrous suggestion put to us by the FT that a discussion about the niche issue of a Conservative Friends Of group amounts to an ‘intervention in the UK’s foreign relations.’
“Mr Amersi’s membership of Quintessentially is utterly irrelevant to any decision the party would take on affiliating a Friends Of group.”