The Guardian

Johnson jokes UK could be ‘Saudi Arabia of penal policy’ under Patel

- Lucy Campbell

A joke by Boris Johnson that the UK could become “the Saudi Arabia of penal policy” under Priti Patel, has been condemned as “disgusting” and a “new low” by opponents.

The PM made the remarks in a speech at a Conservati­ve party fundraisin­g event on 10 September.

“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 the 300 guests at the Inter-Continenta­l London Park Lane in Mayfair.

He went on to joke about the UK becoming the “Saudi Arabia of penal policy” under Patel.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most punitive regimes in the world. It is one of the few remaining countries to carry out capital punishment by beheading and has long been accused of grave human rights abuses, including the torture of activists.

Patel has previously indicated her support for the death penalty as a “deterrent” for serious crime.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, called Johnson’s remarks “disgusting”, tweeting: “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 marked a “new low” for the PM.

During his speech at what was the first large Tory party fundraiser in the age of Covid, he also praised the role of the private sector in the pandemic.

Downing Street was approached for comment.

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