David Cameron has resisted pressure to call for the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix, insisting it is a matter for the Formula One authorities whether the race should go ahead on Sunday.
Labour leader Ed Miliband added his voice to demands for the race to be called off, and urged the Prime Minister to do the same, saying it would send out the wrong signal for the Grand Prix to go ahead at a time of protests over human rights abuses in the Gulf kingdom.
But the Prime Minister said it is “a matter for Formula One”, adding: “It’s important that peaceful protests are allowed to go on.” Speaking during a visit to Preston, Mr Cameron said there is “a process of reform under way in Bahrain”, and added: “This Government backs that reform and wants to help promote that reform.”
Some 17 MPs have signed a cross-party motion at Westminster calling for the race to be called off, warning that it will be used by the Bahrain government as “an endorsement of its policies of suppression of dissent”. But Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone said: “I can’t call this race off. Nothing to do with us. We’ve an agreement to be here, and we’re here.”
Opponents of the kingdom’s Sunni monarchy – many of them drawn from the country’s Shi’ite majority – are expected to rally in an area close to the BIC later. The Foreign Office has advised British motor racing fans against travelling to the Grand Prix.
Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa said that cancelling the race would “empower extremists”. The parliamentary motion calling for it to be cancelled “certainly doesn’t represent the entire British political system”, he said.
Prince Salman said: “I think this race should continue because it is indeed a very big event for this country, important economically, socially. Political parties from the whole spectrum, both conservative and opposition, have welcomed the race.”
He added: “I also think cancelling the race just empowers extremists. For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us to build bridges across communities, to get people working together. It allows us to celebrate our nation. It is an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive.”
Standing alongside the Crown Prince, Mr Ecclestone told reporters: “What happens in this country is nothing to do with us. As his royal highness said, we have people in all sorts of countries not satisfied, people in England – Conservative and Labour – that don’t agree with things.
“That’s how it is. That’s how the world is. But this race has given the protesters an incredible platform for all you guys to talk to them. They say they talk about democracy, which is freedom of speech. They’ve had all the freedom in the world to talk to you guys.”