Ministry of Defence building in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei. Credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.

An agreement which sees Brunei’s oppressive sultan pay for British troops and bases is irrelevant to the UK’s safety and could be a liability in the future, according to a foreign policy expert.

The head of a security network has called for greater attention to be paid to the UK’s involvement in the tiny Asian country of Brunei.

Rethinking Security is a network of organisations which includes the United Nations Association and the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Coordinator of the group, Richard Reeve, has criticised the arrangement which sees around 750 UK troops providing security for ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

This was after a recent Freedom of Information Request showed that the majority of UK troops in the oil rich sultanate are paid for by its autocratic leader.

Richard Reeve said: “Brunei is irrelevant to the defence of the UK.

“The British presence there contributes to the security of an autocracy which has a poor human rights record.

“Being paid to be there covers costs and stops some of the more difficult questions being asked about why we have a presence there.”

He added: “It doesn’t do many favours to the UK’s reputation and is a liability in terms of potential involvement in violent conflicts on the other side of the world.

“In scale there is almost nowhere else in the world that has a permanent UK presence this large.”

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah reimburses the cost of British Forces Brunei’s three sites, its resident Gurkha battalion and a Loan Support Team (LST).

The Gurkhas provide security for the ruler, while the LST of 27-31 service personnel support the country’s military with training and instruction.

At their own camps, one of which acts as the Army’s jungle training facility, the Ministry of Defence only pays for four exceptions.

These being the 7 Flight Army Air Corps, the Jungle Warfare Division, the UK’s Defence Attaché to Brunei and Hornbill School which educates the children of those stationed in the country.

Royal Regiment of Fusiliers training in the jungles of Brunei, 2016. Credit: Open Government Licence version 1.0.

In the last five years this has cost £49.48 million.

These costs are recovered mostly through the Brunei Bill, which is presented to the Government of Brunei annually.

In this government the 74-year-old sultan is also Prime Minister.

The MOD declined to release information on the monetary amount received for maintaining an Armed Forces presence in Brunei.

But although the MOD directly contributed £11.1 million towards British Forces Brunei in 2018/19, according to figures from Declassified UK the base made £300,000 profit in the same year.

Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah at the 2016 Russia-ASEAN summit. Credit: Attribution 4.0 International License.

British links to the monarch came under scrutiny in 2019 after the Syariah Penal Code Order came into effect.

Based on Islamic Sharia Law this made homosexuality and adultery punishable by stoning to death.

After international pressure the country’s current moratorium on the death penalty was expanded to cover the code.

However, the code and most of its punishments still apply to Brunei’s population.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who protested at the Sultan’s Dorchester Hotel in 2019 over the code, said:

“Given Brunei’s many repressive laws and human rights abuses, the UK military should not accept funding or provide training, weapons and security for the regime.

“The British garrison in Brunei should be closed down and its personnel and weapons repatriated to the UK.”

The garrison arrangement was renewed last year and will run until at least 2025.