Bahrain Watch’s latest investigation in the IISS Files, examines the British politicians who the government of Bahrain funds to attend the Manama Dialogue, the annual security summit run by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Since 2013, the Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has spent over £65,000 paying for twelve different MPs to attend the Manama Dialogue, some multiple times. This includes MPs with commercial interests in the region in oil and defence, MPs who sit on committees which scrutinise British government departments relevant to Bahrain and one MP who following the trip, hosted a an event in Parliament for the Bahraini Ambassador to the UK.
Last year Bahrain Watch revealed that the IISS has been secretly funded by the Bahraini government. Leaked documents demonstrated that IISS has received £30 million since 2010, amounting to at least 30% of the think tank’s income. A subsequent report by the Middle East Eye suggested that these numbers could be much higher, accounting for “not far off half the total income for IISS” in 2015. Following our findings, transparency monitor Transparify was “compelled” to introduce a new category – “Deceptive” – in their think-tank rating system, to account for IISS’ concealment of “key donor information”.
The Manama Dialogue plays a big part in establishing IISS’ prestige. A leaked secret agreement from 2011 shows that the government of Bahrain agreed to provide IISS with £3.6m a year, between 2013 and 2016, for the Manama Dialogue alone. By hosting (and funding) it, the Bahrain gets “an exclusive platform to attract and engage some of the world’s most influential political and business players”. It also gets to control who takes part, by denying access to those it wants to keep out. The summit has proved especially useful following the events of 2011, with the brutal repression of a political uprising and the government in need of rebuilding its reputation internationally. The Manama Dialogue was postponed for a year, resuming in 2012 with government speakers and regional allies giving their spin on events. No opposition voices were heard and no human rights concerns in Bahrain were discussed.
The British government used the 2012 event to demonstrate its support for the Bahrain government, with Foreign Secretary William Hague, Defence Minister Lord Astor and Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards attending. This set the scene for subsequent years, with the British government using the Manama Dialogue as an opportunity to set out their policy in the region, whilst simultaneously professing their close relationship to Bahrain. This typically takes the public form of a speech at the summit by the then Foreign Secretary, culminating in Boris Johnson’s declaration in 2016 that “Britain is back East of Suez”. What happens in private is harder to ascertain.
Prior to 2011, the Manama Dialogue was barely attended by British politicians. William Hague, then Shadow Foreign Secretary, went in 2006, 2007 and 2008, each time funded by IISS. Sir Hugo Swire attended in 2009, also funded by IISS, when he was Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council. However, there is no obvious evidence of any other MPs attending, whether funded by Bahrain, IISS, or otherwise. This would soon change.
Our investigation shows that the Bahraini government has spent over £65,000 bringing British MPs to the Manama Dialogue since 2013. Their average annual spend doubled in 2015, when they went from funding 3 MPs a year to 7. (To be clear, all of the MPs properly declared the source of their funding.) All of the MPs were from the Conservative Party and several made repeated trips. Notably, Kwasi Kwarteng, described as a “rising star on the right of the party”, has been paid to attend every Manama Dialogue since 2013.
|Year||No. of MPs||Amount|
There is a revolving door aspect to the Manama Dialogue. Alistair Burt was Minister for the Middle East at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) between 2010 and 2013. In that position he played a key role in the British government’s response to the 2011 uprising in Bahrain. The Bahrain government then funded his trips to the Manama Dialogue in 2014 and 2016. (He was also funded to attend the 2013 summit by the Bahrain Inter-Parliamentary Union.) Burt then returned to government in July 2017, again as Minister for the Middle East. The door also revolves between the FCO and IISS, who organise the Manama Dialogue. Melanie Scarlett worked as Head of Political Internal and Press & Public Affairs at the British Embassy from approximately 2011 to 2016. She is now Middle East Programme Manager at IISS’ Bahrain office.
The Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) is a central player in the visits. Established under Margaret Thatcher, CMEC is a “members association” that purports to “ensure that Conservative MPs and Peers understand the Middle East”. It arranges events in Parliament and conducts “delegations” overseas to the region, which are often paid for by the host government. The objectivity of CMEC has also been questioned, given the political and business interests of some of its donors.
CMEC organised the MPs delegation to the 2013 Manama Dialogue and have been heavily involved in the years that followed. After the 2015 summit, where the delegation met with Bahraini officials, the Ambassador “presented CMEC with a commemorative Crest of the Bahraini Coat of Arms” at a dinner held in the British parliament.
It is possible that the doubling of funded MPs reflects the shift from the Conservative Party governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, to the Conservatives taking sole power following the May 2015 general election. British government policy towards Bahrain and the region certainly echoes strongly CMEC’s position. Indeed, Prime Minister Theresa May recently spoke at the annual CMEC gala lunch, heaping praise on the organisation.
Beyond CMEC, some of the funded MPs have parliamentary roles that would certainly be of interest to the Bahrain government. When Crispin Blunt attended the 2016 Manama Dialogue in his capacity as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, his trip was part-funded by Bahrain, who also covered the costs of his researcher. Nadhim Zahawi was also a member of that committee when he went the same year.
Sir Alan Duncan led the CMEC delegation in 2015. At the time, he sat on the Intelligence and Security Committee. He also held a government position as Special Envoy to Yemen and Oman and indeed spoke on the situation in Yemen at the summit, seemingly in his official capacity, rather than a personal one.
Other MPs have financial interests in the region. CMEC President Sir Nicholas Soames is Chairman of Aegis Defence Services, a large private military company, owned by GardaWorld, with offices in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Soames knows King Hamad “very well”, having done his officer cadet training alongside him. Fellow MP Nadhim Zahawi is Chief Strategy Officer at Gulf Keystone Petroleum, “a major oil player in Kurdistan”.
The Bahrain government found a useful ally in Jack Lopresti after funding his 2015 trip to the Manama Dialogue and a later visit as part of a CMEC delegation. In July 2016 he hosted an event in the British parliament which saw him inviting MPs to “celebrate the bicentenary of Bahraini–UK relations” on behalf of Bahrain’s Ambassador to the UK.
The 2017 Manama Dialogue is currently underway. Yet another delegation of British MPs are there, led once again by Sir Nicholas Soames. Bahrain Watch will continue to monitor their activities.
See below for profiles of the 13 MPs who have been funded to attend the Manama Dialogue by the government of Bahrain since 2013.
|Mr Crispin Jeremy Rupert Blunt MP||£5,144.15||2016|
|The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP||£5,850.00||2014 & 2016|
|The Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan MP||£3,050.00||2015|
|Sir Gerald Howarth||£2,600.00||2014|
|Kwasi Kwarteng MP||£12,600.00||2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016|
|Dr Phillip Lee MP||£6,750.00||2013 & 2015|
|Charlotte Leslie||£6,300.00||2015 & 2016|
|Jack Lopresti MP||£3,050.00||2015|
|Johnny Mercer MP||£3,050.00||2015|
|The Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames MP||£7,250.00||2013 & 2016|
|The Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP||£3,550.00||2016|
|Helen Whately MP||£3,050.00||2015|
|Mr Nadhim Zahawi MP||£3,250.00||2016|
Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames MP (Conservative, Mid Sussex)
Received £7,250 in total from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2013 and 2016 Manama Dialogue
Sir Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, began his career in the armed forces. He did his officer cadet training alongside the King of Bahrain, who he describes as knowing “very well”. Soames became Prince Charles’s Equerry (private secretary) in 1970. He left the palace two years later for a career in finance, which included a period as personal assistant to James Goldsmith and later roles at Lloyds Brokers and the Sedgwick Group. Soames was first elected in 1983 as MP for Crawley and has served in parliament ever since (representing Mid Sussex from 1997 onwards). He was a Defence Minister in John Major’s government, with responsibility for the Armed Forces. In opposition, he served as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence between November 2003 and May 2005.
In December 2005, Soames became a non-executive director of of Aegis Defence Services, a controversial private military company founded by Colonel Tim Spicer in 2002. By May 2006, the firm was “effectively in charge of the second largest military force in Iraq – some 20,000 private soldiers”. In 2010 the firm underwent something of a shakeup. Soames became Chairman in January. Spicer left, replaced as CEO in June by Major General Graham Binns. That same year, Aegis relocated its HQ to Basel, Switzerland, establishing an offshore holding company there, “reportedly for the purpose of avoiding taxes”. Its new Swiss base caused problems however, given the country’s stated neutrality. This controversy was compounded in early 2012 when the Swiss government hired Aegis to protect their Embassy in Libya.
Eventually, in April 2014, Aegis announced it was pulling out of Switzerland, moving its head office back to London. The following year it was acquired by GardaWorld, a Canadian company, although Aegis continues to operate as its own entity. Soames currently draws an annual salary of around £110,000 for his work there. Aegis has several offices, including in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. In 2016 the firm was accused of having recruited child soldiers in Sierra Leone to work in Iraq.
Soames has been President of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) since 2007. He previous served as Chairman between 1997 and 2003. He attended the 2013 and 2016 Manama Dialogue as part of a CMEC delegation, funded by the Bahrain government. He also visited Saudi Arabia in March 2013 as part of a Saudi funded CMEC trip. Falcon and Associates funded his 2016 CMEC trip to Dubai as well as a 2012 visit there for the “Annual Falcon and Associates Round Table”. Soames has previously been involved with the pro-government All Party Parliamentary Group on Bahrain.
Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan MP (Conservative, Rutland and Melton)
Received £3,050 from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2015 Manama Dialogue
Prior to entering parliament in 1992, Sir Alan Duncan worked as an oil trader, initially at Royal Dutch Shell. He joined Marc Rich’s controversial firm in 1982 and spent seven years there. At the time, Rich’s company was involved in supplying oil to Apartheid South Africa, although Duncan has denied knowledge of this. In 1989 he established Harcourt Consultants and reportedly “‘made a killing’ during the Gulf War, selling oil into Pakistan when Kuwait was occupied by Iraq”.
Before becoming an MP, Duncan was close to the Conservative Party. He even loaned John Major the use of his house during Major’s 1990 leadership campaign. In December 1993, Duncan was appointed Personal Private Secretary to the then Health Minister, however he had to resign that position weeks later following an expenses scandal. After the Conservatives electoral defeat in 1997, Duncan held a series of senior posts in opposition, including several years in the Shadow Cabinet. He also launched a failed leadership bid in 2005. After the 2010 general election, he was appointed Minister of State for International Development, a post he held until July 2014. Whilst in this role, he was also part of the government’s Gulf Initiative Ministerial and visited Bahrain in 2011. Duncan was then appointed Special Envoy to Oman and Yemen. He returned to the front benches in July 2016 as a Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Duncan’s initial ministerial post courted some controversy, following revelations about the “Libyan oil cell” which operated during the campaign against Gaddafi. Run by Duncan, with the backing of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and Mi6, the “oil cell” sought to block “supplies of crude oil to the dictator’s side while allowing petrol and diesel to flow to the rebels”. Of concern was the involvement of Swiss oil firm Vitol in the operation to provide oil – said to be worth $1billion – to rebel forces. Ian Taylor, the Chairman of Vitol, has known Duncan for decades – they met when they were both working at Shell. Duncan’s firm Harcourt consulted for Vitol until at least 1997. Taylor then funded Duncan’s private office in the late 2000s. At that time, Duncan was also a director of Arawak Energy, a company part owned by Vitol. Duncan has denied any wrongdoing regarding the work of the so-called “Libyan oil cell” and the involvement of Vitol, calling it “a baseless story”, that no “introductions” were made and that the deal could have equally gone “to BP and Shell”.
In January 2016, whilst a backbench MP, Duncan was given approval by the government advisory committee to accept a job as Non Executive Director of Dubai based firm Fujairah Refining Ltd. The majority shareholder of the company is Vitol. Duncan was paid £8,000 a month, although he had to resign in July 2016 upon his return to government as Foreign Minister. He received an additional £50,000 “contractual severance payment” in October. During this time – from September 2015 to July 2016 – Duncan sat on the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which oversees the work of the UK’s intelligence services.
In 2015, Duncan became Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC), leading a delegation to that years Manama Dialogue. He also spoke in a panel on ‘The future of Yemen’. This trip was funded by the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs and included meetings with Bahraini officials, including the Crown Prince, Foreign Minister and Interior Minister. On returning to the UK, Duncan and others from the delegation hosted the Bahraini Ambassador for dinner in Parliament. The Ambassador ”presented CMEC with a commemorative Crest of the Bahraini Coat of Arms”. Then British Foreign Minister Tobias Ellwood was also present. While CMEC Chairman Duncan also travelled to Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 2016 on funded trips.
Duncan had previously attended the Manama Dialogue in 2013, as part of the British government delegation alongside then Foreign Secretary William Hague. Interestingly, in the 2015 Manama Dialogue delegate list, Duncan appears as part of the UK Government delegation, in his role with the Foreign Office as “Special Envoy to Yemen and Special Envoy to Oman”. The IISS agenda also lists him as such, which presumably is the capacity in which he spoke.
Duncan is a frequent visitor to Oman, before, during and after becoming Special Envoy. A 2009 Daily Mail article claims that he had spent 99 days there in the previous decade, all funded by the Omani government. His most recent funded trip to Oman was in January 2017 to attended a “strategic seminar”. Curiously, he undertook it whilst a Minister.
Kwasi Kwarteng MP (Conservative, Spelthorne)
Received £12,600 in total from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend Manama Dialogue in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016
Kwasi Kwarteng was elected as MP for Spelthorne in 2010, having previously worked as an analyst for an investment management company. He was also Chairman of the right-wing think tank The Bow Group from 2005-6 and author of a book on the British Empire. In 2015, the BBC described him as being “seen as a rising star on the right of the [Conservative] party”. That year, Kwarteng became Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Leader of the House of Lords. The position was held at the time by Baroness Stowell and subsequently by Baroness Evans, whose husband James Wild was a special advisor to then Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. Following the 2017 general election, Kwarteng was appointed PPS to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond.
Kwarteng became Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) in October 2015. Since entering parliament, he has enjoyed paid “fact-finding” trips to the Middle East, many of which were organised by CMEC with costs often covered by the host government. This includes trips to Egypt, Israel and Palestine, Iraqi Kurdistan, Libya, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Kwarteng has attended every Manama Dialogue since 2013, each time funded by the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Indeed, the Bahrain government has spent more on getting Kwarteng to the Manama Dialogue than any other British MP. However, there is little visible evidence of his presence there. In 2014, Bahrain state media reports that he attended a meeting with the Interior Minister, alongside Alistair Burt and Lord Risby. He also likely attended the meetings with Bahraini officials organised by CMEC in 2015.
Nadhim Zahawi MP (Conservative, Stratford-Upon-Avon)
Received £3,250 from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2016 Manama Dialogue
Millionaire Nadhim Zahawi was elected to parliament in 2010, after stepping down as CEO of YouGov, which he co-founded in 2000. Zahawi was born in Iraq, but his Kurdish parents fled to England in the mid-1970s to escape persecution. He joined the Prime Minister’s Policy Board in 2013, “with special responsibility for business and the economy”. In parliament, Zahawi was a member of the Committees on Arms Arms Export Controls from July 2010 to March 2015. He has also sat on the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) since June 2014, running unsuccessfully for Chair in 2015.
Zahawi is co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. The director of the APPG is Gary Kent. Zahawi and Kent came under criticism in 2014 after it was noted that Kent’s role at the APPG was paid for by Gulf Keystone Petroleum, “a major oil player in Kurdistan”. Moreover, Zahawi led an APPG delegation to to Kurdistan in January 2014, which visited an oil field owned by Genel Energy, a company Zahawi held shares in at the time. A year later, in July 2015, he became Chief Strategy Officer at Gulf Keystone Petroleum. He initially earned £20,125 a month, plus bonuses, which rose to £29,643 a month in August 2017. Since December 2016, he has also owned shares in the company “valued at more than £70,000”.
Alongside his jobs as an MP and oil company strategy officer, Zahawi also earns £40,000 a year from recruitment company SThree and earns rental income on a string of properties worth over £25 million. He also owns a company with his wife (Zahawi & Zahawi). Its clients include IPDB Limited, an Emirati based firm run by his father, Hareth Zahawi. IPDB has been operating in Iraq since 2003. Zahawi & Zahawi also had counted the now collapsed oil and gas giant Afren as a client between 2012 and 2015.
Zahawi has taken multiple funded overseas trips since becoming an MP in 2010. These include several visits to Kurdistan, both as part of the APPG and also, in 2011, leading a UK Trade and Investment delegation to the Erbil Trade Fair. He also joined a Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) delegation to Saudi Arabia in 2013 and travelled to Dubai in November 2016 as part of a delegation funded by Falcon and Associates. During his attendance at the 2016 Manama Dialogue, paid for by the Bahrain government, he spoke briefly about the political situation in Iraq.
Rt Hon Sir Hugo Swire MP (Conservative, East Devon)
Received £3,550 from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2016 Manama Dialogue
Also attended the 2009 Manama Dialogue, funded by IISS
Hugo Swire trained at Sandhurst and had a career in the armed forces, before working in financial public relations and later as Director of Sotheby’s. He has been an MP since 2001. In opposition, he held several key roles, including in 2003 as Personal Private Secretary to the then Conservative Party Chair, Theresa May, and as a member of the Shadow Cabinet from 2005-7. He then took over from Crispin Blunt as Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC), and also sat as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the United Arab Emirates and Treasurer of the APPG on Oman.
After the 2010 general election, Swire was appointed Minister for Northern Ireland and then in September 2012, a Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he served until July 2016. His responsibilities did not include the Middle East. Swire was knighted in August 2016 as part of David Cameron’s honours list. The following month he rejoined CMEC as its Chairman.
Days after his re-election as MP in June 2016, Swire received a donation of £10,000 from Rosemary Said, wife of the billionaire Wafic Said who “is credited with helping the [Saudi Arabian] regime buy British in 1985 in the biggest arms deal in history, known as Al-Yamamah”. Rosemary also donated £50,000 to CMEC in September 2016, the month Swire returned as Chairman. She had previously made donations to CMEC of £20,000 in 2015 and £100,000 in 2008.
Sir Gerald Howarth, Former MP (Conservative, Aldershot)
Received £2,600 from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2014 Manama Dialogue
Sir Gerald Howarth was an MP from May 1983 to 2017, the last two decades of which were spent representing Aldershot, known as the ‘Home of the British Army’. He served as a Defence Minister from 2010 to September 2012. In that position, he was responsible for International Security Strategy, which included arms exports. At a UKTI Defence and Security Organisation event in November 2010, Howarth spoke of “the biggest defence exports drive in decades”. During the 2011 DSEi international arms fair held in London, to which the Bahrain government was invited despite the recent repression, Howarth escorted a delegate from the Bahrain National Guard around.
Shortly after leaving government, Howarth was asked to comment on the situation in Bahrain. He said: “The criticism about civilians being killed on the streets of Bahrain. Well forgive me, we took 13 people out on the streets of Londonderry, in one day.”
In January 2014, the Bahrain government, through the Ministry of Transport, part-funded Howarth’s trip to the Bahrain International Airshow. The bi-annual event is partly organised by Farnborough International Ltd, based in Howarth’s constituency. The company also runs the annual Farnborough International Airshow, a British based arms fair to which the Bahrain government and military are routinely invited.
Howarth also enjoyed several other funded trips before leaving government. These include a 2014 visit to Azerbaijan, funded by the state oil company there, and a January 2016 Conservative Middle East Council delegation to Egypt. He returned to Egypt in July 2016, on a trip paid for by the Egyptian parliament, taken in his capacity as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Egypt. Howarth was a sitting member of the National Security Strategy (Joint Committee) from November 2015 to his departure from parliament in 2017.
Crispin Blunt MP (Conservative, Reigate)
Received £5,144.15 from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs for him and his researcher to attend the 2016 Manama Dialogue
Crispin Blunt has long taken an interest in the Middle East. A former Army officer trained at Sandhurst, Blunt worked in the early 1990s as a special advisor to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, in his role as Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary. Blunt then entered parliament in 1997 as MP for Reigate. In 2003 he became Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC), a position he held until 2008. Baroness Morris, one of his successors as Chairman, describes CMEC as “starting to flag” until Blunt “got it back on its feet”, alongside then director Laura Hutchings.
Following the 2010 general election, Blunt served as Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Justice until September 2012. Thereafter, while on the backbenches, he worked as a consultant to Ethos Capital Advisers from June 2013 to May 2014, providing “advice and assistance […] around specific projects to help recover losses for sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and North Africa”. He also took various funded trips to the Middle East, including to the United Arab Emirates (2012), Egypt (2013), Jordan (2014) and Lebanon (2014). In June 2015 Blunt was elected as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), which scrutinises the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other relevant bodies. He served as chair until May 2017. Blunt also sat on the National Security Strategy (Joint Committee) from November 2015 and the Committees on Arms Export Controls from February 2016, leaving both in May 2017.
Blunt attended the Manama Dialogue in 2015 and 2016, both in his capacity as FAC Chair, with approval from the Liaison Committee (on which he also sat). In 2015 he received £1,890 in funding from the FAC and whilst there, gave a speech as part of a plenary session on ‘Managing Conflict Spill-over’. He also attended meetings with Bahraini officials, including the Crown Prince, Foreign Minister and Interior Minister, alongside MPs who were part of a delegation from CMEC, funded to be at the Manama Dialogue by the Bahrain government.
Curiously, in Blunt’s 2016 trip to the Manama Dialogue, although the Liaison Committee authorised a budget up to £2,373, the FAC paid only £1,524. Blunt accepted a further £1,894 from the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to cover his “hotel accommodation, food and transport”. He accepted an additional £3,250 from the Bahrain government to enable his parliamentary researcher, Skandar Keynes, to join him.
Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP (Conservative, North East Bedfordshire)
Received £5,850 from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2014 and 2016 Manama Dialogue
Also received £3,040 from Bahrain Inter-Parliamentary Union to attend the 2013 Manama Dialogue
Alistair Burt is presently a Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in a position joint with the Department for International Development (DFID). In this role he has responsibility for Middle East and North Africa policy in both departments as well as Cross Government Funds at DFID. The latter includes the controversial Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). This has been described as a £1bn “slush fund” by MPs, £3.5m of which has been spent on “technical assistance to Bahrain”, including training police on how to “command and control” protests using “less-lethal” force.
Burt has held a number of positions in government and opposition since entering parliament in 1983. His current role is his third Ministerial post since 2010. He was a Health Minister from May 2015 to July 2016 and Under-Secretary of State at the FCO, responsible for the Middle East and North Africa, between May 2010 and October 2013. As such he was in an important post during the Arab uprisings and a frequent visitor to the region.
After stepping down, he continued to travel, accepting “at least £48,690 for eleven trips to the Middle East”. He attended the Manama Dialogue in 2013, where he spoke as part of a panel discussion on the “regional implications of the Syrian war”. His trip was funded by the Bahrain Inter-Parliamentary Union, although he travelled as part of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Bahrain. The secretariat of the APPG was PR-firm Meade Hall (formerly Gardant Communications), run by Lord Clanwilliam, who also attended the 2013 summit. The Bahrain APPG disbanded at some point in 2017, although Burt was a member between November 2016 and May 2017. Whilst on the backbenches Burt also chaired the UK-UAE APPG, and travelled there in 2014, 2015 and 2017, each time funded by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A separate trip to the UAE and Oman in May 2014, for “business and political meetings” with their foreign ministries, was funded by Markham Services Ltd, a company owned by Lord Polack and his wife. Polack is the honorary President of Conservative Friends of Israel.
In January 2014, Burt was given permission to establish himself as an “independent consultant” and accept work with Global Partners Governance Practice Ltd (GPG) and Global GSA Group. Permission was granted, with certain conditions, although it was noted that GPG had worked with the “FCO’s Arab Partnership” whilst Burt was a Minister there. As declared, his work for GSA consisted of “advising and supporting on business development in the Middle East through conference and travelling”. His work for GPG, undertaken in November 2014, involved consulting on their Foreign Office contract to provide mentoring and support services to Parliamentarians and their staff in the Middle East”.
Charlotte Leslie, Former MP (Conservative, Bristol North West)
Received £6,300 in total from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the Manama Dialogue in 2015 and 2016
After losing her seat in the 2017 election, Charlotte Leslie became Director of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC). She had made several “fact-finding” trips with the group since becoming an MP in 2010. This included CMEC delegations to Syria in 2011, Israel and Palestine in 2012, Egypt and Turkey in 2015 and Bahrain in 2016. Some of these visits, particularly the earlier ones, were funded directly by CMEC. Others, such as the one to Bahrain in January 2016, were funded by host governments and other interested parties. Not all her Middle East trips are listed in relation to CMEC. In 2016, for example, she visited the United Arab Emirates twice. Firstly in April, funded by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to meet with Government Ministers and “senior business figures”. Then again in November, funded by Falcon and Associates, as part of a parliamentary delegation to Dubai. In
In December 2016, a week after returning from the Manama Dialogue, Leslie received a hamper from the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London which was valued at £500. Around this time, or shortly thereafter, Leslie became chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Saudi Arabia (possibly at an AGM held on 12 December 2016). Curiously, the APPG is not listed with the other groups in declarations made in November 2016, suggesting it may have been disbanded and then reformed. In April 2017, Leslie made her first trip to Saudi Arabia, paid for by the Shura Council, which is appointed by the King. It was a visit undertaken explicitly to “strengthen British-Saudi Arabia diplomatic relations”. Two months later, Leslie lost her seat in the snap general election. Weeks after that loss, The Telegraph published an article by her full of praise for Saudi, particularly selling the Crown Prince as a “revolutionary” to the newspapers readers.
Jack Lopresti MP (Conservative, Filton and Bradley Stoke)
Received £3,050 from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2015 Manama Dialogue
Jack Lopresti is an MP with a keen interest in defence, having joined the Territorial Army whilst serving as a Bristol city councillor and later serving five months on active deployment to Afghanistan in 2008. He is also a member of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Elected as MP in 2010, Lopresti has sat on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee across three parliaments, and been a member of the Armed Forces Bill Committee when the relevant legislation is under scrutiny. He was also a member of the Defence Committee from October 2016 to May 2017 and served as Personal Private Secretary (PPS) to the then Minister for International Development Dominic Swayne between July 2014 and May 2015.
Lopresti has enjoyed many funded trips overseas as an MP. In December 2012, Lopresti travelled to Saudi, funded by the Shura Council (a body appointed by the King), “as part of the UK Defence Forum delegation to gain an understanding of the political and security framework as related to the Saudi Government”. Lopresti was among a group of MPs who were criticised for going on a trip organised by Conservative Friends of Israel, which took place during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. The trip included a “visit to a military facility” and “a briefing at the Iron Dome missile defence system”. He has also made several trips to Kurdistan and in June 2017 Lopresti was elected Chair of the APPG on Kurdistan (see entry on Nadhim Zahawi for more on the APPG).
He has only been to the Manama Dialogue once, but in January 2016, two months after that visit, the Bahrain Foreign Ministry once again paid for him to come to the country, this time as part of a delegation with the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC). Whilst there he attended the Bahrain Airshow. Lopresti reciprocated the favor that July, “sponsoring and hosting a parliamentary event”, which saw him inviting MPs to “celebrate the bicentenary of Bahraini–UK relations” on behalf of Bahrain’s Ambassador to the UK.
Johnny Mercer MP (Conservative, Plymouth Moor View)
Received £3,050 from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2015 Manama Dialogue
Johnny Mercer graduated from Sandhurst in 2002 and served in the British Army until December 2013. He was elected to parliament in May 2015. Mercer has been a member of the Defence Committee, which scrutinises the work of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), since July 2015. Mercer chaired a sub-committee inquiry into the MoD’s treatment of troops under investigation for committing abuses in Iraq.
Mercer has taken part in several overseas delegations since becoming an MP, including two with the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC). One to Turkey in 2015 to investigate the refugee situation, and one to Egypt in March 2017.
Dr Phillip Lee MP (Conservative, Bracknell)
Received £6,750 in total from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2013 and 2015 Manama Dialogue
Dr Phillip Lee is currently serving as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice. He was appointed in July 2016. Lee was first elected in 2010, having previously worked as a GP. Prior to entering government, he was Vice-Chair of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) from 2010 and also chaired the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Qatar and Kuwait.
He has taken funded trips to the Middle East with CMEC, including to Syria (2011), Kuwait (2011) and Saudi Arabia (2013). His 2013 attendance at the Manama Dialogue, funded by the Bahrain government, is listed as having been organised by CMEC. In early 2016 Lee also made separate trips with APPG delegations to Kuwait (funded by the Kuwait National Assembly) and Qatar (funded by the Qatari Foreign Ministry).
Helen Whately MP (Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent)
Received £3,050 from Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend the 2015 Manama Dialogue
Prior to being elected in 2015, Helen Whately spent eight years as McKinsey & Co, working as a healthcare consultant. A few months after entering parliament, in October 2015, Whately joined a Conservative Middle East Council delegation to Turkey, visiting refugee camps. Later that month, the Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs funded her trip to attend the Manama Dialogue.
In April 2016 and again in April 2017, Whately accompanied parliamentary delegations to Saudi Arabia, funded by the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was criticised following the second trip after failing to note this when she defended Saudi Arabia during a debate in parliament.