x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 October 2017

Split among parliamentary UK-Qatar relations group over anti-UAE event

Dissent behind the scenes of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Qatar Group

People cross Westminster Bridge in front of the Houses of Parliament in London. Markus Schreiber / AP Photo
People cross Westminster Bridge in front of the Houses of Parliament in London. Markus Schreiber / AP Photo

A behind the scenes split has taken place in the all-party parliamentary group set up to foster good relations between the Qatar and UK over the involvement of one of its chairmen with a controversial anti-UAE campaign group.

Former British cabinet minister Alistair Carmichael, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary British-Qatar Group, was set to host an event on Wednesday at the Houses of Parliament for the International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates (ICFUAE), which has a history of flaunting parliamentary rules and an opaque financial and organisational structure. The ICFUAE is promoting a campaign on social media to boycott the UAE.

Mr Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP and the Scottish secretary for the Coalition government in 2013-15, was advised by colleagues to scrap the seminar, which claims that it will examine the “UK-UAE trading relationship” specifically regarding defence deals. The event will be chaired by Joe Odell, the press officer of ICFUAE.

The dissenting parliamentarians have chosen not to make their concerns public at this stage, however, The National approached Mr Carmichael about the ICFUAE’s history of breaking parliamentary rules. This includes an event held on March 22 last year at the House of Commons which had no MPs present, which is a breach. A video recording of this event was placed on YouTube, again a contravention of parliamentary rules. Another event in Parliament on April 25, at which Mr Carmichael’s parliamentary colleague Tom Brake made introductory remarks before leaving, continued without any MPs present.

"I note what you say about apparent breaches of House rules in relation to previous meetings held in the Commons. Rest assured I shall be present throughout the event," Mr Carmichael said on Wednesday as he prepared for the event. "Given the range and standing of speakers taking part I am not currently minded to change the arrangements."

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The ICFUAE has no legal requirement to divulge its finances, being neither a company nor a charity. There are also questions about how it is registered. According to Nominet, the body that manages the United Kingdom’s internet domain registry, the address given by ICFUAE is “not able to [be] match[ed to] the registrant's name and/or address against a 3rd party source”.

In fact, when The National went to the address for the ICFUAE given on Nominet – “London 102, London, NW1 1WN” – it was discovered that it was actually a postal box in a Royal Mail collection centre behind Euston station.

The National approached the ICFUAE to ask them questions about their funding and organisational structure but received no reply.

Mr Odell, who has been actively addressing the UAE in his Twitter feed since March 5 of this year, is a strong supporter of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, himself once a former member of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Qatar Group.

He is quoted in an Observer article of 2015 saying that Mr Corbyn “speaks [my] language”.