International trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has said the UK will stand firm on its desire to strike investment and trade deals with Saudi Arabia, despite its poor record on human rights.
Trevelyan told City A.M. at an event today that “trade deals will be done with those who wish to trade” amid furore this week about Boris Johnson’s trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Prime Minister met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Tuesday to try and convince them to increase oil production in the wake of surging global energy prices.
Johnson’s choice to meet with the pair drew widespread criticism, with a series of campaign groups complaining about both countries’ poor record on human rights.
Questions were also raised about the trip by Labour, with Sir Keir Starmer accusing Johnson of “going cap in hand from dictator to dictator” to try and secure the UK’s energy supply.
It comes as the UK is trying to close a multi-billion pound investment deal with Saudi Arabia and is starting negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) trade bloc over a post-Brexit trade deal.
The GCC is comprised of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.
“We continue to work with friends and allies with whom trade has been, and continues to be, a really important part of both UK and global free trade activity,” Trevelyan said.
“The Foreign Office always continues to share our concerns on the question of human rights.”
She added: “Trade deals will be done with those who wish to trade. We are leading the way now that we are free to do so. Free trade agreements which will be much broader and deeper, and importantly looking toward services as well as what have traditionally been free trade agreements in goods.
Bin Salman was accused of sanctioning the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and last weekend his regime oversaw the execution of 81 people.
A further three people were executed on the day of Johnson’s visit to Riyadh.
All six of the countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council have limited press freedom and all but two carry out capital punishment.
When asked about the human rights records of gulf countries on Tuesday, Johnson said: “I’ve raised all those issues many, many times … since I was foreign secretary and beyond and I’ll raise them all again today. But we have long, long standing relationships with this part of the world and we need to recognise the very important relationship that we have.”