PM jokes about Britain being 'Saudi Arabia of penal policy'

UK PM jokes about Britain being 'Saudi Arabia of penal policy' under Home Secretary Priti Patel
3 min read
15 September, 2021
UK PM Boris Johnson addressed a 300-strong crowd of Conservative Party donors last week and joked that Britain's criminal and penal policy was like Saudi Arabia's - one of the world's most brutal regimes.
A "substantial sum of money" was raised at the fundraiser for the Conservative Campaign Headquarters and other Tory organisations [Getty]

UK PM Boris Johnson joked that Britain was becoming “the Saudi Arabia of penal policy, under our wonderful Home Secretary” at a £500-a-head Conservative Party fundraiser last week. 

The 300-strong crowd at the InterContinental London Park Lane in Mayfair responded with rapturous laughter at the comparison between Britain and one of the world’s most brutal regimes in footage obtained by Business Insider. 

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has come under intense scrutiny in the UK press over her hardline policies on crime and immigration - which includes the use of “pushback” tactics along the British coast and the penalisation of undocumented migrants under a National Borders bill. 

However, among Tory donors, only cheers could be heard. 

“In the immortal words of Priti Patel or Michael Howard or some other hardline home secretary, addressing the inmates of one of our larger prisons: It’s fantastic to see so many of you here,” said the UK PM at the beginning of his speech. 

His Saudi Arabia joke followed a lengthy monologue about Conservatives being the party of enterprise, capital, business, affordable mortgages and renewable energy. “We’re the Saudi Arabia of wind,” Johnson said, before mentioning the Gulf country’s unmerciful criminal system. 

Saudi Arabia has been accused of “longstanding human rights abuses” by Human Rights Watch. This includes repressing dissidents, human rights activists, and independent clerics - sometimes by torture - as well as limiting the freedoms of women and immigrant communities.

It is one of the few countries that continues to carry out capital punishment via beheading, and executes people for homosexuality and drug offences. 

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Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said on Twitter that the joke was “disgusting”.

“Saudi Arabia beheads its own citizens, tortures activists exercising their democratic rights and kills homosexuals,” she wrote. “As ever with Boris Johnson behind closed doors the masks slips and we see what he really thinks.” 

At the same time as the Tory fundraiser on 10 September, rumours of a cabinet reshuffle putting Patel’s job at risk circulated on social media and in the UK press. 

No decisions have been made public yet. While some at Downing Street want to see the back of Patel, according to The Times, the move would be dangerous on the Tory backbenches. 

Instead, Johnson used this first public address to set a triumph tone on what is modern Conservativism in Britain, amid tax rises, growing economic inequality, and the looming prospect of another winter lockdown in the UK. 

“We are basically, fundamentally, the party of enterprise and wealth creation. And I salute the City of London, incarnated here, and I always stick up for the wonderful banker. Any bankers here?” said Johnson. 

Downing Street did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the joke. In January, when Politico reported on the UK PM making a similar jest to a call with 250 business bosses, Downing Street called it “total bollocks”.