Let us imagine, for a moment, that Dubai’s autocratic ruler Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum was not a long-standing friend of
Would he still receive the special access he has enjoyed thanks to his vast wealth and philanthropy – and as a key ally of the United Kingdom – while shamelessly riding roughshod over our laws?
For more than two years, the royals have had to endure the excruciating spectacle of details of Sheikh Mohammed’s cruel and vindictive behaviour towards his estranged wife Princess Haya being played out in the High Court.
At the same time came disturbing allegations of his scant regard for human rights, in kidnapping two of his own daughters – one from the streets of Britain – who had fled their homeland to escape their brutal father.
Let us imagine, for a moment, that Dubai’s autocratic ruler Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum was not a long-standing friend of the Queen (both pictured)
But the revelations that the man who has been photographed in the Royal Box at Ascot and shared a carriage drive with the Queen down the famous course also sanctioned an illegal phone hacking operation on British soil to snoop on his wife and her lawyers, who include a Conservative peer, go far beyond mere embarrassment.
They have triggered a potential crisis in Britain’s bilateral relationship with the United Arab Emirates, of which the sheikh is both vice president and prime minister.
Court documents released yesterday have revealed the extent of the illicit surveillance operation targeting Princess Haya – who ran away to London after a loaded pistol was menacingly left on the pillow of her bed – as well as her personal staff and her legal team, headed by the eminent solicitor Baroness (Fiona) Shackleton.
Lady Shackleton, who acted for the Prince of Wales in his divorce from Princess Diana, reported the hacking to Black Rod, the Queen’s representative in the House of Lords, after learning that her ‘Parliamentary email, my own email, my WhatsApp messages, my pictures and my texts are all visible to somebody else’.
The hacking is said to have broken at least five British laws but the compromising of 65-year-old Lady Shackleton’s parliamentary account was being viewed as tantamount to an attack on UK sovereignty.
In a bizarre twist, Lady Shackleton was alerted to the hack by Cherie Blair on instructions from her client.
The royals have endured the details of Sheikh Mohammed’s cruel behaviour towards his estranged wife Princess Haya (pictured with the Queen in 2009) being played out in court
If he was not a friend of the Queen’s, would he still receive the special access he has enjoyed thanks to his vast wealth? Pictured: Sheikh Mohammed’s beach palace complex in Dubai
Mrs Blair is the QC wife of former Prime Minister Tony, who represents the secretive Israeli-owned high-tech company which makes the military-grade Pegasus spyware used by Dubai’s intelligence services.
Last night the irony that, in alerting her fellow lawyer, Mrs Blair was the whistleblower was not lost on all parties in this increasingly murky case.
For it was under the Blair government two decades ago that the Foreign Office shut down a police investigation into the abduction and drugging of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter Shamsa from Cambridge.
The cyber-hacking was just one element of a sophisticated spying operation that included the billionaire sheikh attempting to buy a £30million property next door to Haya’s Berkshire bolthole, where she lived with the couple’s two children.
This, the court was told, made the princess feel ‘hunted and haunted’ in her 12-bedroom mansion, Castlewood House – once the home of Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York.
When she asked the judge to impose an ‘exclusion zone’ around the house to prevent her husband from stalking her, the sheikh brazenly sought to exploit his royal connections by complaining such an action would impede his access to Windsor Castle and Ascot, the racecourse owned by the Queen.
The historic ties of friendship between the House of Windsor and Sheikh Mohammed, who once cultivated an image as a progressive Arab leader, underpinned Britain’s relations with the UAE. They now threaten to undermine them.
Racing and a shared love of horses have long cemented the family ties between the Windsors and the Maktoums.
Twelve years ago Sheikh Mohammed gave the Queen four yearlings, one of which, Carlton House, came close to delivering her longed-for Derby winner in 2011 but ultimately finished third.
In return she gave him one of her thoroughbreds, Highland Glen, as a present. He had wanted to buy it but because of fears of embarrassment if the horse did not win again, she insisted on giving it to him. She has also used his stud services.
John Warren, her racing manager, described the sheikh in 2010 as a ‘friend’ of the Queen whom she had seen ‘on a fairly regular basis’ for about 20 years.
Horse racing has cemented ties between the Windsors and the Maktoums. Pictured: Sheikh Mohammed, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2016
But as more courtroom revelations emerged earlier this year, it was disclosed that the Queen intended to distance herself from the sheikh and avoid being photographed in his company.
The Covid pandemic has helped. Sheikh Mohammed has not been seen on a British racecourse for two years but it is understood he has paid at least one private visit to his Godolphin stables in Newmarket, the UK headquarters of his training and breeding operation.
But next year when the Queen’s love of racing is expected to be at the centre of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations, this may prove extremely tricky.
The two monarchs have the third and fourth favourites for next summer’s Epsom derby – the sheikh has a two-year-old, Naked Trail, and Her Majesty has Reach for the Moon.
Even for someone as well-versed as the Queen in overcoming encounters with despots, dictators and even ex-terrorists, it could make the winners’ enclosure a no-go zone.
But the sheikh’s influence does not just apply to the Derby: He dominates British racing. He has had 146 winners this year alone – including the Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stakes – picking up prize money of £4.6million.
This though is a drop in the ocean compared to the tens of millions of pounds he has invested in UK racing.
Not only is he a sponsor, he runs an education programme and supports a string of racing charities.
This week his links to racing were underlined at the opening of the prestigious Tattersalls sales of young horseflesh, where the biggest prices were paid by the sheikh’s representatives.
It is not his deep pockets but the multiple allegations of criminality that could cause significant diplomatic difficulties between the UK and the UAE.
If the Queen were to shun the sheikh completely, it could have serious consequences. Dubai is a key intelligence and defence partner in the Gulf and the UAE one of the biggest markets for British arms manufacturers.
Between 2008 and 2017 it bought £7.3billion of weapons and associated equipment.
Relocating his Godolphin empire would be catastrophic to Britain’s racing industry. But even so I understand there is increasing nervousness not just at Buckingham Palace but also in Downing Street at the fall-out from the revelations.
Luxurious: Yacht of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai
The senior Labour MP Chris Bryant is urging Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to summon the Emirates’ ambassador for a meeting. ‘Some of us have worried for some time about foreign states taking an interest in MPs’ phones and emails, and I hope this will act as a wake-up call,’ he said.
Royal insiders are understood to be especially troubled by the hacking allegations involving Baroness Shackleton, who has not only acted for Prince Charles but is also the private solicitor to Prince William and Prince Harry.
She was awarded the LVO by the Queen in the 2006 New Year’s honours.
‘It is sinister and outrageous,’ says a royal source.
Ever since the case began, the Queen has sought to avoid being seen to take sides in what began as a matrimonial dispute. Princess Haya’s Anglophile father King Hussein of Jordan was a warm and staunch ally of the UK and a close friend of the royals. Prince Charles attended his funeral in 1999.
The princess, an accomplished horsewoman who rode for her country in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, lavished praise on the Queen when presenting her with the International Equestrian Federation’s first ever lifetime achievement award.
‘She is a true horsewoman who rides whenever state business allows,’ the princess declared, adding that her ‘knowledge of breeding and bloodlines is incredible’.
In 2019, only days after fleeing from the Gulf with her two young children for London where she was holed up in an £85million mansion opposite Kensington Palace, Princess Haya met the Queen privately for tea at Windsor Castle.
Within days the Queen was rubbing shoulders with the sheikh, where she presented him with a trophy at Royal Ascot as winner of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
After these latest allegations, however, can she ever be seen in his company again? And would it really hurt Britain if she wasn’t?
Tips to Find Low Priced Luxury Holiday Package Deals Fast