Archive November 2019

Dutch police on manhunt to find Hague attacker who stabbed three teenagers

Dutch police kept up a huge manhunt on Saturday for an assailant who stabbed three youths in The Hague’s main shopping area.

Officials said they were keeping an open mind about the motive for the attack, which came as shoppers hunted bargains on Black Friday.

The incident caused panic in The Hague as it happened just hours after two people were stabbed to death in London allegedly by an ex-prisoner convicted of terrorism offences.

The male attacker ran off after the stabbings at a department store in the city centre’s Grote Marktstraat, The Hague’s main shopping area.

"We haven’t arrested a suspect yet. So we are currently very busy trying the find the suspect," police spokeswoman Marije Kuiper told AFP.

"It’s a little too early to speculate about that kind of thing," she said when asked about a possible terrorist motive, adding that investigators were still looking at several possible scenarios.

Police officers work near the site of a stabbing on a shopping street in The Hague Credit: Reuters

Police forensics officers were seen examining a knife found at the scene overnight.

The victims were a 13-year-old boy from The Hague, a girl of 15 from Alphen aan den Rijn and a 15-year-old girl from Leiderdorp, the ANP news agency said, quoting police. They did not know each other, police said.

They were all allowed to go home from hospital overnight.

Images on social media showed shoppers running in panic away from the scene, on a nighttime retail street lit by Christmas fairy lights.

Two teenage girls came running into the store after being stabbed, broadcaster NOS quoted witnesses as saying.

"I saw two girls screaming and running away. A man fled. He jumped very athletically over benches to get away. He looked like a cheetah," one witness told NOS.

"People were trying to get away. but that didn’t work. I was shocked."

Police helicopters flew overhead and several emergency vehicles were on site, the correspondent said.

Police initially gave a description of a man they were looking for aged between 40 and 50 but later withdrew it, saying they were still investigating.

The stabbing took place not far from parliament, which is the seat of government for the Netherlands and home to many international organisations and courts.

In Britain, two members of the public were killed in a stabbing on London Bridge in the heart of the capital on Friday.

The Netherlands has seen a series of terror attacks and plots, although not so far on the scale of those in other European countries.

In March four people were killed when a Turkish-born man opened fire on a tram in the city of Utrecht.

In August 2018 an Afghan man stabbed and seriously wounded two American tourists at Amsterdam’s central station, saying he wanted to "protect the Prophet Mohammed".

He was jailed for 26 years in October this year.

Earlier this month a Pakistani man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for a plot to kill far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders.


Cyprus farmers warn of halloumi shortages over EU protection plans

Grilled and golden brown, it’s become a much-loved staple of British barbeques and summer salads, but all is not well in the hallowed world of halloumi.

In Cyprus, which claims to be the true home of the distinctive squeaky cheese, a battle has broken out over whether to tighten up the rules that govern how it is produced.

On one side is the Cypriot government, which is pushing for the island’s rubbery “white gold” to be given an EU badge of authenticity known as Protected Designation of Origin.

The objective is to protect Cypriot halloumi from foreign imitators – lookalike products on the market such as “grilloumi” and “white grill cheese”.

On the other side are cow herders and cheese producers, who say the new regulations are so exacting that they cannot be met and warn that the island’s halloumi sector will be brought to its knees.

A Turkish Cypriot turns over pieces of Halloumi, a local cheese, in Ledra Street in central Nicosia, the world's last divided capital Credit: AFP

They say the proposed rules are not only too tough, they are in some cases farcical.

There would be a requirement, for instance, for sheep, goats and cows to eat five specific types of plants as they graze – but three of those are protected species.

There is a stipulation that milk should come from certain Cypriot breeds of sheep and goats – but they are now in short supply after local herds were culled following an outbreak of scrapie disease a decade ago.

Round discs of halloumi – produced specifically for barbeques and known as “burger halloumi” – would not be allowed because they are not deemed to be traditional.

“If the new designation is adopted, it will be a disaster for halloumi makers,” Giorgos Petrou, the president of the Cyprus Dairy Producers Association, told The Telegraph.

“It would cut exports by 60 per cent because there will be a lot less halloumi being produced.”

That’s because under the PDO proposal, halloumi will be required to contain 50 per cent goat and sheep milk, rather than the 20 per cent currently stipulated.

Cyprus produces less goat and sheep milk than cows’ milk, meaning that the quantity of halloumi that the island can produce will decline, while leaving a large surplus of unused cows’ milk.

The row has pitched cattle farmers against sheep and goat farmers, with the latter broadly in favour of the designation because their milk will be in high demand.

Women prepare traditional halloumi cheese at a house in the Cypriot village of Astromeritis, located some 30 km west of the capital Nicosia Credit: AFP

But it could have a profound impact on a sector that is worth nearly €200 million a year and which employs around 12,000 people.

Britain is the biggest market, buying around 40 per cent of exports – more than three times as much as the next biggest importer, Sweden.

Business is booming across the board, with worldwide exports doubling in the past four years.

But halloumi producers have warned that half of the island’s cheese factories could close down as a result of the push for PDO.

Producers fear that if Cyprus can no longer satisfy its export markets, foreign makers of imitation halloumi will jump in to fill the gap.

The battle over halloumi has been dragging on since 2014, when Cyprus first submitted its request for official EU recognition.

The EU scheme ensures protection for food and drink that have strong links to the territory on which they are produced, from Champagne and Gorgonzola to Melton Mowbray pork pies.  

Kalimata olives, for instance, must be produced in the region of Kalamata in Greece, using only olives that come from that area.

Cypriot cheese makers say the agriculture ministry ploughed ahead with the PDO application without consulting them closely enough, with the result that the application has been gathering dust in Brussels for years.

“The decision to register the PDO would be a suicidal decision for the halloumi industry,” Nikos Papkyriakou, of the Pan Cyprian Organisation of Cattle Breeders, told the Cyprus Mail.

“And we would not even be allowed to sell our halloumi, because it does not comply with the file specs.”

Costas Kadis, the agriculture minister, was unavailable for an interview but has insisted that the government should press ahead with PDO status.

The agriculture ministry said that should happen “as soon as possible”.

The objections of cheese makers had been examined but “rejected”, the ministry said.

“The position of the ministry is that the best way for the halloumi to be protected is the approval of the PDO file by the European Commission,” a spokesman said.

Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, has given all sides a month to try to resolve their differences and to decide whether PDO status should be pursued or withdrawn.

“We’re still in discussion. We’re waiting to see what the government’s next move is,” said Mr Petrou of the Dairy Producers Association.



Europe becomes cocaine exporter as countries overflow with drug

European countries have become so saturated with cocaine that the region has now become a hub for exporting the drug to markets such as Australia, Turkey and Russia, according to new data.

Record levels of production of the drug in South America and new smuggling routes opening up into the continent means that Europe is now a transit area for the export of cocaine. 

The phenomenon is outlined in a new Europol analysis of the drug market, and comes after Spain seized a submarine carrying cocaine from Colombia in a European first this week. New trafficking routes are also being developed through war-torn west African states.

Les Fiander, one of the authors of the 2019 Drugs Market Report, said there were a number of reasons why South American production has soared in recent years.

“Organised crime groups have been able to expand their production, because authorities in source countries are not able to use anymore pesticides to fight it."

Spanish officials seized the submarine earlier this week Credit: LALO R. VILLAR/AFP

He added that the ongoing peace process in Colombia is another factor, as the vacuum left by the Farc has been rapidly filled by coca farmers looking to make quick money.

According to the report, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain remain main entry points and distribution hubs for cocaine in the EU. Smuggling operations are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect.

The European Union’s law enforcement agency’s 2019 Drugs Market Report, shows that the value of the drugs trade in Europe is roughly €30 billion. Cannabis, accounting for 39% of the total market, is the most consumed illicit drug followed by cocaine at 31%. It is estimated that four million European citizens used cocaine this year.

Last week’s submarine was carrying three tonnes of cocaine valued at €100 million when it was detained off the north-west coast of Spain. The submarine had travelled from South America and it is believed the cocaine was destined for the British market.

West and North Africa appears to be emerging as a more significant transit point for both air and maritime shipments of cocaine destined for the European and possibly other markets.

The report found that heroin production, mainly in Afghanistan, is also on the rise and consequently there is likely to be a much greater availability of the drug in Europe over the coming years.

The use of heroin and other opioids still accounts for the largest share of drug-related harms. The retail value of the heroin market in 2017 was estimated to be at least €7.4 billion.

The report also highlighted how the illicit drug industry in Europe is increasingly contaminating river water, drinking water and wastewater. 

The adverse effects of leaking acidic chemicals are now more widespread and no longer an issue limited to local governments, the report found. 

Compounding the problem is the array of chemical substances that can be used to produce synthetic drugs, meaning that the amount abandoned and dumped often varies greatly. 

Tech giants under fire as they bow to governments’ controversial demands 

Tech giants have run into controversy after bowing to pressure from governments to change highly disputed and politicised content. 

The iPhone maker Apple came under fire after its maps for users in Russia referred to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, as part of Russia. 

The EU and the US have condemned the annexation as illegal and do not recognise Crimea as Russian, introducing ongoing sanctions in response. 

Apple said the move was due to a new law in Russia, but it was condemned in Ukraine. 

The Ukrainian embassy in the US wrote on Twitter: "Let’s all remind Apple that #CrimeaIsUkraine and it is under Russian occupation – not its sovereignty." 

Ukrainian foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko wrote on Twitter: "IPhones are great products. Seriously, though, @Apple, please, please, stick to high-tech and entertainment. Global politics is not your strong side." 

He compared Russia’s annexation of Crimea to having a "piece of your heart stolen by your worst enemy" and suggested Apple didn’t "give a damn" about its pain. 

Russian ex-world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who was briefly jailed in 2007 for taking part in an anti-Kremlin rally in Moscow, called the decision "unacceptable appeasement".

He added: "Where is the backlash? American consumers have the power to change the world for the better by protesting against such things, from Crimea to Hong Kong. Stop letting tech companies and tyrants have it both ways."

Apple said it was now reviewing how it handled "disputed borders", adding it took into account international, US and domestic laws before labelling its maps, and made changes if required by law. 

The row came as social media giant Facebook on Friday added a correction to a post on the Facebook page of anti-government website States Times Review,  following a demand from Singapore authorities who claimed it contained false information.  

Facebook posted a label underneath the post saying "Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information", next to a link to the government’s fact-checking site. 

The controversial new law on misinformation in the City state came into use on Monday but has been criticised as an attack on free speech.

Amnesty International has said the law will give Singapore authorities "unchecked powers to clamp down on online views of which it disapproves." Transgressions can lead to fines of up to $730,000 [£564,687].

Facebook, whose Asia headquarters is in Singapore, said it hoped the law would be implemented in a "measured and transparent" way. 

UK’s last commissioner warns divided EU faces migration challenge as he breaks silence on Brexit

The new European Commission will inherit an EU bitterly divided over migration and between Eastern and Western governments, Britain’s last ever commissioner has warned. 

Sir Julian King told the Sunday Telegraph, as he cleared out the UK’s office for a final time, that the tussle over how to deal with the refugee crisis would continue to pose the greatest challenge to an increasingly fragmented European Parliament.

Sir Julian is the last of 15 commissioners sent to Brussels by Downing Street since 1975. He served under Jean-Claude Juncker for two and a half years after Jonathan Hill, his predecessor, resigned shortly after the vote for Brexit.

Ursula von der Leyen takes over the presidency of…

Malta’s prime minister expected to resign amid crisis over journalist’s murder

Malta’s prime minister was expected to resign last night amid an acute political crisis precipitated by the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat was on the brink of quitting, according to The Times of Malta, in what would cap a tumultuous week for the EU’s smallest member.

He has been under immense pressure to leave for days, with nightly protests outside parliament in Valletta, the capital.

“Out, out, out,” Paul Caruana Galizia, one of the murdered journalist’s three sons, wrote on Twitter.

Simon Busuttil, a former opposition leader, said that the departure of the prime minister was “both inevitable and imperative for our country to start a desperately needed cleaning up and healing process after six and a half years of lies, corruption and an assassination that killed one of us.”

Roberta Metsola, an MEP with the opposition Nationalist Party, wrote: “If only Daphne was alive to see that even after they assassinated her, she brought the criminals down in disgrace.”

Mrs Caruana Galizia was blown up by a car bomb as she left her home outside Valletta, the capital, two years ago.

She had made many enemies through her widely-read blog, Running Commentary, which documented corruption and sleaze in the political and business worlds.

The protracted investigation into her assassination finally started to bear fruit this week, with several arrests and resignations.

Mr Muscat, from Malta’s Labour Party, presided over a period of strong economic growth and low unemployment.

A former TV anchor, he was elected in 2013, securing the biggest majority in 60 years, and promised a government that would be friendly to business and encouraging to foreign investment.

Blessed with an easy charm, he was described as “a mainstream, youthful, fresh social democrat, the Maltese version of a young Tony Blair” by a new book on the scandal of the journalist’s killing, Murder on the Malta Express. “He was the new kid on the block.”

Bu his standing was irreparably damaged by the murder of the journalist, which shocked the whole of Europe and raised questions about the rule of law in Malta.

The prime minister was one of the targets of Mrs Caruana Galizia’s blog.

She accused his wife of taking bribes from Azerbaijan’s ruling family and hiding them in illegal offshore structures – allegations that were vehemently denied.

In the past few days, three politicians within the prime minister’s inner circle stepped down in connection with the murder investigation, including his chief of staff, Keith Schembri.

Mr Schembri was arrested and questioned by police but released on Thursday night, sparking incredulity and accusations of a cover-up. He denies any wrongdoing and police said they no longer needed him held for their investigation. 

Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia Credit: REUTERS

"We share Malta’s shock and anger at the release of Keith Schembri, the prime minister’s close personal friend and former chief of staff," Mrs Caruana Galizia’s family said in a statement.

“This travesty of justice is shaming our country, ripping our society apart, and it is degrading us. It cannot continue any longer."

They accused the prime minister of playing "judge, jury, and executioner in an assassination investigation that so far implicates three of his closest colleagues."  

Mr Schembri, who denies any wrongdoing, was allegedly implicated in the murder plot by Yorgen Fenech, a wealthy business tycoon who was arrested on his yacht as he tried to leave the island earlier this month.

He has requested a presidential pardon in return for providing information to the authorities, but that was turned down by Muscat’s cabinet at an extraordinary meeting that ended at 3am on Friday.

In a letter to Malta’s president, Fenech’s lawyers said the evidence would implicate senior government figures including Mr Schembri and two cabinet members – Konrad Mizzi, the tourism minister, and Chris Cardona, the economy minister, both of whom stepped down this week. All three deny wrongdoing.

Forensic experts walk in a field after a powerful bomb blew up a car killing investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija Credit: REUTERS

Mr Fenech, the businessman, was released on police bail on Friday morning, telling journalists: “I fear for my life.”

Mr Muscat’s expected resignation will set off a leadership race within the governing Labour Party.

The country is expected to have a new prime minister by January.

Three men have been charged with planting and detonating the bomb that killed the journalist, but so far the authorities have failed to track down the person who hired them.

After two years, no trial date has been set yet for the trio of alleged assassins.

In the months before she was murdered, Mrs Caruana Galizia had been writing about a secretive Dubai-based company called 17 Black, which was owned by Mr Fenech.

Leaked emails revealed that payments were due to be made by the offshore company to Mr Schembri and Mr Mizzi for unspecified services.

There is no evidence that those payments were made in the end. Mr Schembri and Mr Mizzi have denied any wrongdoing. 

Several hurt in stabbing attack on Hague shopping street

At least three children were wounded on Friday after a knife-wielding man went on a stabbing spree in the main shopping street of The Hague. 

Dutch police are hunting for the perpetrator after the attack near the Hudson Bay department store, which was packed with shoppers for a Black Friday sale, a police source told the Telegraph.  

"All three victims of the stabbing incident in Grote Marktstraat are minors. We are in contact with their families," The Hague police said on Twitter. The police did not give their ages.

A police spokesman said there is "no direct evidence to suspect terrorist attack" but added "we are keeping an open mind and looking at all possibilities".

Marije Kuiper, police spokeswoman, said no arrest has yet been made, but an urgent search is taking place.

"An extensive manhunt is still underway for a man who stabbed three people and escaped by running into Hudson Bay department store," the police said.

They said that the store has an exit into a pedestrian street, which was crowded with Black Friday shoppers, and the attacker managed to escape.

Police were quickly on the scene after first two victims, both young women, were stabbed. But the search was hindered by hundreds of panic-stricken shoppers running through the Grote Markt Straat – the city’s main shopping street.

Maarijke den Bos said she had just come out of the department store when she heard screaming in the street.

"There was a virtual stamped with people running in every direction, ambulances arriving, and so many police," she said. 

Hundreds of people were escorted out of the shopping centre and Grotke Markt Street, a busy thoroughfare, in the wake of the incident. 

Photos posted on social media showed emergency services  and a helicopter at the scene.

The condition of the wounded and the motive of the attack remain unclear. 

"We are keeping every scenario open," said Ms Kuiper.

Police sealed off a wide perimeter behind which onlookers were kept at bay.

The stabbing was also not far from parliament in The Hague, which is the seat of government for the Netherlands and home to many international organisations.

The US embassy warned its nationals in The Hague to avoid the area because of "reports of a security incident" and told them to let loved ones know they were safe.

In Britain, two members of the public were killed in a stabbing on London Bridge in the heart of the capital. The suspected attacker was then tackled by passers-by and shot dead by police.

The Netherlands has seen a series of terror attacks and plots, although not so far on the scale of those in other European countries.

In March four people were killed when a Turkish-born man opened fire on a tram in the city of Utrecht.

Dutch police on Monday arrested two suspected jihadists, one of them in The Hague, and charged them with planning a terror attack using suicide and car bombs.

Earlier this month a Pakistani man was sentenced to 10 years in jail for a plot to kill far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

French hunters should take breathalyser tests, campaigners say after string of deadly accidents

French hunters are facing calls for compulsory breathalyser tests before bearing arms amid fears that a spike in the number of deaths this year could be drink-fuelled.

Eight people have already died in hunting accidents since September and the season still has another three months to run. 

The death toll has already surpassed the seven who were killed last year out of a total 131 recorded accidents.

The spike prompted a plea from environment minister Emmanuelle Wargon for hunters to fully implement new safety regulations.

Last year, French parliament passed a bill tightening security for hunters, who are obliged to wear high-visibility vests, post signs to warn walkers about “collective hunting actions”, and take a security training test every ten years.

In the past, they were briefly shown hunting guidelines over an induction course lasting a day or two and then handed a permit for life.

But animal welfare groups say the new measures are clearly insufficient, in particular as they fail to address the issue of alcohol consumption.

A hunter walks with his shotgun in the nature on December 9, 2016, in Vouvray, Central France Credit: AFP

“Today, you can hunt drunk in France, it’s perfectly legal,” said Marc Giraud of the wildlife protection group ASPAS and author of How to Walk in the Woods Without Being Shot.

“There are no breathalyser tests for hunters as it is not a crime to hunt in an inebriated state nor is being drunk considered an aggravated circumstance in case of homicide,” he told the Telegraph.

“As a result, state rangers do not have the right to conduct breathalyser tests. That should change.”

The problem, he said was that being “merry, a bon vivant who likes to drink and eat well” was part of the hunter’s image “but there is a price to be paid that can be someone’s life”.

The National Hunters Federation, FNC, in France stresses it has improved security, making it harder to get new licences and that the deaths have generally dropped from an annual average of around 20 over the past 20 years.

It insists that accidents are generally down to “fatigue” rather than drink and has baulked at stricter drink controls, saying that alcohol consumption is “more a question of judgement” on a par with “deciding to drive home or not”.

But the FNC slammed as unacceptable the number of deaths this year. 

Two of the victims killed were not even taking part in a hunt. One man in the Charentes-Maritime was shot dead while mushroom picking in September.

“Enough is enough,” said Nicolas Rivet, director general of the FNC, who said the majority of deaths were down to “failure to respect security measures”.

“The problem is you can create as many rules as you like and drum them into people but some will continue to do stupid things. It’s like when you’re driving and send a text message behind the wheel despite the dangers for others,” he said.

Errors occur when hunters fail to respect a 30 degrees rule meaning you shoot downwards to avoid hitting a colleague and only shoot once you have identified the prey. Numerous fatal accidents happen when hunters forget to disarm their rifles while climbing obstacles.

Anti-hunt groups are also calling for a national hunting on ban on Sundays, when the majority of accidents occur but say the powerful hunting lobby, which represents around a million hunters, holds sway over politicians. 

They point to the fact President Emmanuel Macron recently agreed to halve the price of hunting permits.

Hunters say they are making efforts but that the sport does carry risks by definition.

Thierry Coste, lobbyist for the FNC, said that carelessness was “intolerable” but “with ricochet, (an accident) is totally possible.”

“Zero risk doesn’t exist.”

Hunting has been the subject of fierce debate this week after a pregnant woman was killed by dogs in northern France while walking her own pet in a wooded area during a deer hunt. Prosecutors have launched an investigation and taken DNA tests from all dogs in the local hunt’s hound pack and others in the area.

Her funeral is to be held on Saturday.

Husband of jailed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe begs Boris Johnson for ‘Christmas miracle’ return

The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has pleaded with Boris Johnson to deliver a “Christmas miracle” and help free the jailed British-Iranian charity worker.

Richard Ratcliffe, in a letter to the prime minister released this week, said he felt Mr Johnson had made “placebo promises” to see that 40-year-old Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released, which he has not kept.

Mr Ratcliffe said he sent the letter to Mr Johnson two weeks ago but has not received a reply. He said the prime minister has ignored all pleas for contact since entering No 10, despite promising as Foreign Secretary to “leave no stone unturned”.

Now he feels he has no choice but to go public with his most heart-rending appeal yet in the three-and-a-half years since his wife’s arrest by Iranian authorities on espionage charges.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman charity worker, has been mentally suffering in prison in Tehran Credit: Family handout

“Enough is enough. How can this be allowed to happen without the PM explaining what he is doing about it? If you take responsibility for the country you have to take responsibility for obvious mistakes," he writes.

“Our story defines what a British passport is worth on your watch,” Mr Ratcliffe said. “The job of a PM is not just to make headlines, but in the end to make a difference. That starts with protecting citizens at their most vulnerable, home and abroad.”

He said Mr Johnson was responsible for the imprisonment of more British-Iranian dual nationals in Iran.

At least three Iranians holding British nationality have been arrested by Tehran in the last year, as relations worsened with the Islamic Republic.

In his letter he revealed his wife is now so des­­perate she has spoken of taking an overdose.

“Nazanin says how she no longer wants to live through what they are doing to her,” he wrote. “Those in power do not care enough to solve it, and she cannot keep going like this. She has lost hope, lost everything, in bottomless waiting.”

Five-year-old Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her father Richard during a press conference at the Houses of Parliament, following Gabriella's return to the UK so she can attend school. Credit: PA

The Ratcliffe family made the decision to bring daughter Gabriella, five, home to London from Tehran, where she had been living with her grandparents and paying visits to her mother in Evin prison.

She has been enrolled in a school near their home in Hampstead, north London, and in a new photograph appeared happy as she sat on her father’s shoulders.

SAS ‘could lose Brunei training base’ if Corbyn becomes prime minister

The SAS could lose a vital training base in the Far East if Jeremy Corbyn becomes the next prime minister, senior defence officials have warned.

Concerns have been raised about the future of the British garrison in Brunei after senior Labour figures called for a boycott following the country’s rulers’ decision  to introduce death by stoning as punishment for homosexuality earlier this year.

The British military base in Brunei, the only remaining British presence in the Far East, is one of the Army’s major training centres, and its renowned Jungle Warfare Training School is used by the SAS and other British special forces units for intensive training exercises.

But the future of the base, whose five-year lease is due for renewal in February next year, would be in serious doubt if Mr Corbyn triumphs in next month’s general election, according to insiders at the Ministry of Defence.

Senior Labour figures, such as Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, as well as gay rights campaigners have been highly critical of Brunei’s rulers after they sought to impose severe punishments against the country’s gay community.

Calls for Britain to cut ties with Brunei came after the country’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, introduced strict new sharia laws in April which imposed the death penalty for a range of crimes, including homsexuality.

Under the terms of the new code introduced by the Sultan, offences such as rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery and insult or defamation of the Prophet Muhammad carry the maximum penalty of death.

Lesbian sex carries a different penalty of 40 strokes of the cane and/or a maximum of 10 years in jail. The introduction of the measures provoked an international outcry, and the Sultan has since responded by agreeing to a moratorium on the death penalty being applied for all homosexual offences.

But Labour and gay rights activisits have maintained their calls for a total boycott of Brunei, and senior military officers fear this could mean the closure of the Brunei military base if Labour wins the election.

“Brunei is a vital base for the British military, both because of its key location in the Far East and its value as a vital training base for elite forces such as the SAS,” said a senior British defence source.

“Losing our base in Brunei would represent a significant setback for the Army and its ability to train for jungle warfare.”

Former defence secretary Gavin Williamson has already sought assurances from the Brunei government that British service personnel based in the country would not be subject to the new anti-gay measures.