LONDON (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has given information which helped save British lives, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday, saying it was important to maintain a relationship with the kingdom despite accusations it has a poor record on human rights.
The British government’s decision to fly the Union flag at half mast on public buildings following the death of Saudi’s King Abdullah last month drew criticism human rights campaigners and several prominent British politicians.
Asked about this decision during a question and answer session on Sky news on Monday, Cameron said the countries had a long standing relationship and it was “a mark of respect”.
“We have a relationship with Saudi Arabia partly over things like trying to achieve peace in the Middle East but crucially over fighting terrorism ... Since I have been prime minister a piece of information that we have been given by that country has saved potentially hundreds of lives here in Britain,” he said.
While King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz pursued a modernising legacy of cautious social and economic reform, against a backdrop of regional turmoil the authorities had in the last year issued tougher penalties against all forms of dissent.
A sentence of a thousand lashes on a blogger accused off offences including insulting Islam, cyber crime and disobeying his father has also caused international outrage.
“We don’t agree with lots of things that the Saudis do ... we make very clear those differences,” Cameron said.
“I would argue if you have a relationship with them and you have a way of talking to them they are more likely to listen to you than if you just cut yourself off.”
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Guy Faulconbridge