The Times view on Sheikh Mohammed and our ties with the UAE: Questionable Allies

Dubai’s ruler faces a criminal investigation over the hacking of a Tory peer’s phone

The Times
October 6, 2021

A British judge’s conclusion that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum used sophisticated spyware to hack the phone of his estranged wife’s lawyer will only deepen the acrimony in what was already a bitter custody battle. But the news that Dubai’s ruler now faces an investigation by Scotland Yard will be met with particular dismay in the corridors of Whitehall, still ringing with celebration over the United Arab Emirates’ £10 billion investment in British infrastructure. That deal was hailed by Downing Street as a critical show of confidence in post-Brexit Britain and a mark of the strong and developing relationship with the UAE.

For a close ally, the UAE has long had a problematic human rights record, in common with other Gulf states. Indeed, too often in recent years the UAE has not behaved as an ally at all, including in 2018 when Dubai police arrested the British academic Matthew Hedges and sentenced him to life imprisonment for spying. In fact, the UAE had spied on him, allegedly hacking both his phone and that of the lawyer trying to win his freedom.

Now the charge is that Sheikh Mohammed is responsible for the hacking of the phone of Baroness Shackleton, his estranged wife’s divorce lawyer and a member of the House of Lords — a finding he disputes. It is the kind of criminal activity that, if undertaken by an adversary, would result in an immediate diplomatic crisis and, potentially, sanctions. Yet, so far, silence.

Sheikh Mohammed may have little personally to fear from a police investigation. He has asserted diplomatic immunity to the court. A police investigation into the abduction of his daughter, Princess Shamsa, in Cambridge more than 20 years ago ran out of steam when the Foreign Office refused to cooperate. The UAE’s investment in Britain may be safe. Britain’s reputation for even-handedness may be more in peril.