This is pure class, pure, unalloyed hilarity from today’s Evening Standard newspaper editorial, page 14, as it talked about how Britain has paid some sort of bribe to Gaddafi to get landing rights and extract British nationals:
“As with other aspects of the rescue effort, the comparison with the response of other nations does ministers no credit. It is difficult to imagine the French military asking permission for its air force to rescue French citizens earlier this week, much less paying special bribes to do so.”
The French don’t pay bribes. Riiiiight. (Cough).
A less daft argument, in the same newspaper, comes from Sebastian Shakespeare:
“It is a sad indictment of modern Britain that a crisis immediately turns into a blame game and everybody expects to be mollycoddled when the balloon goes up. But the days of gunboat diplomacy are long behind us. The time has come to put aside sentiment and face economic reality. The FO [Foreign Office] cannot perform miracles when natural or geopolitical disasters occur. Nor should it be expected to foot the entire bill.”
“And why should the FO be bailing out oil workers, of all people? Yes, they are British citizens but many won’t be paying tax in the UK but earning tax-free salaries. The companies who employ them are enough to charter a whole fleet of 747s to repatriate their staff. They should bear the costs. And why should we put the SAS at risk? BP could hire its own private army.”
Hmm. I guess if people travel and work for high salaries in places known to be dangerous – and Libya and many other thugocracies are clearly dangerous – then it is a bit much to get this sudden surge of moaning when the home country does not immediately come to the rescue. Fair point. And it is also a fair point that oil companies could afford to give good security to their staff. Many do so. Security is a huge growth industry not just for oil industries, but also for the likes of many other multinationals, such as banks. I know of a few ex armed forces guys, including an ex-SAS officer, who earn very good money in this area. This topic has a slight connection to my posting about piracy on this site.
Having said all of which, I think Shakespeare is perhaps being a bit too dismissive, here. A citizen from country A who temporarily – a key point – lives in country B while working for a firm does not, in my view, surrender the protection of his host nation entirely. Of course, simple prudence and commonsense suggests that people who choose to work in a dangerous place are taking a risk and cannot expect that risk to be underwritten by fellow taxpayers who live in safer places. But I am not entirely at ease with the idea that we say to expat workers, even very rich ones, that we leave them to their fate. This is particularly so if such people are working for firms that play a part in the prosperity of say, the UK. This is not a cut and dried issue, in other words.
In the meantime, this whole business must be surely forcing some people in the Ministry of Defence to wonder whether recent UK defence cuts – driven more by understandable cost issues rather than strategic thinking – need to be thought through more carefully. For instance, does it make sense for the Royal Navy to go without any kind of working aircraft carriers for years until the new ones arrive, leaving the UK with no real ability to project airpower to protect things like UK shipping? Here is an interesting associated article at Standpoint.