Boris Johnson has been criticised as “disgusting” for joking that Priti Patel was making Britain “the Saudi Arabia of penal policy”.
The prime minister made the remarks during a speech behind closed doors at a Tory party fundraiser on 10 September. Footage of his incendiary comments were obtained by Business Insider.
“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,” Johnson told 300 attendees at the lunch, which took place at the InterContinental London Park Lane in Mayfair.
He later joked about the UK becoming the “Saudi Arabia of penal policy” under Patel. “I said last year we’re the Saudi Arabia of wind. Probably the Saudi Arabia of penal policy, under our wonderful home secretary,” Johnson said.
‘This is disgusting’
Saudi Arabia is one of the few remaining countries to carry out capital punishment by beheading, and has been accused of persistent and grave human rights abuses – including the torture of activists. The death penalty can be imposed for drug use or homosexuality.
Patel, the home secretary, has previously voiced support for the death penalty as a “deterrent” for serious crime – though she has since added she is not an “active supporter of the policy”.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, seized on Johnson’s comments, labelling them “disgusting”. She tweeted: “Saudi Arabia beheads its own citizens, tortures activists exercising their democratic rights and kills homosexuals. This is disgusting. As ever with Boris Johnson behind closed doors the mask slips and we see what he really thinks.”
Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on home affairs, said the comments were a “new low” for the prime minister.
He added: “Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record is nothing to joke about. We have real and serious problems with crime and the rule of law in our country that deserve better than sloppy punchlines behind closed doors.
“UK police officers facing the PM’s pay cuts certainly won’t be laughing. Boris Johnson may admire his pals in the Saudi dictatorship but he cannot escape the fact that his Conservative government is failing miserably to do what actually works to prevent crime.”
‘I salute the wonderful bankers’
Elsewhere in his speech, Johnson hailed the role of the private sector during the pandemic.
The prime minister said: “And who invented that vaccine, my friends? Was it produced in the laboratories of the Department of Health and Social Care? Was it Public Health England? Was it the NHS? No! No, it wasn’t. No, it was the private sector, it was big pharma, it was the UK pharmaceuticals industry.
Johnson also boasted about having been “the only politician who stood up for [the bankers] in 2008”. He said: “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 bankers.”
Attendees to the lunch paid up to £500 for a ticket to the three-course lunch, raising significant amounts of money for the Cities of London & Westminster Conservative Association – as well as Conservative campaign headquarters.
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