British weapons manufacturers are up in arms (no pun!). The Saudi royal family is threatening to cancel a deal for 72 BAE-made Eurofighter aircraft. That is, unless the Serious Fraud Office drops an on-going investigation into bribes paid by BAE to individuals closely related to the Saudi monarch. As a result, the heavy weights of Britain's defence industry are beginning to fear that they may also lose their share of the lucrative Saudi market.
And yet, they can hardly complain that the SFO has been too heavy-handed. Since the 2002 bill, which made it illegal for British companies to bribe foreign customers, this is the SFO's first and only investigation. And despite 2 years of enquiries, which produced compelling evidence of bribes, no charge has been brought, so far.
The truth - and the reason for such a slow pace, as well as for the complaints of British arms companies - is that the potential profits at stake are enormous. If maintenance, technical assistance and parts are included, the Eurofighter deal alone could be worth anything between £10bn and £30bn over the next decade or so. And each one of the main British defence giants has billions of pounds worth of other military contracts in the pipeline, which they could lose, should the Saudis decide to retaliate in earnest.
As if to reassure these super-rich companies, Blair chose this precise moment to announce his government's plans regarding its nuclear arsenal. In passing, by a cynical irony, the same prime minister who sent the troops into Iraq in pursuit of imaginary "weapons of mass destruction" is now championing the modernisation of Britain's own nuclear weapons of mass destruction!
So, an estimated £20bn of public money will be channelled into the coffers of the City instead of being used to fund vitally needed investment in public services, social housing, etc.. And there will not be any need for the defence giants to bribe anyone this time, since Labour is so keen to bend over backwards to boost the profits of capital!