British PM defends Saudi ties during Crown Prince visit

Mar 10, 2018, 00:32
British PM defends Saudi ties during Crown Prince visit

Wednesday's first official engagement was a trip to Buckingham Palace to see Queen Elizabeth - a rare honour usually reserved for heads of state.

Foreign minister Boris Johnson led the welcoming party for Prince Mohammed on his arrival late on Tuesday.

MBS is also credited with leading a series of social reforms, such as allowing women to drive and lifting a 35-year ban on cinemas.

Notably, the crown prince is the architect of a Saudi-led intervention against Iran-allied rebels in Yemen.

Critics say Britain has been slow to condemn rights abuses by Saudi Arabia, a key regional ally and major purchaser of United Kingdom -made weapons.

"Short term arms sales profit should not be valued above human rights and we should not be giving more practical and PR support to the Saudi regime after we've already licensed almost 5bn worth of arms since the Yemen war began", Turner told Al Jazeera.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who spearheaded the military-backed popular uprising that ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi from office in 2013, has been a staunch backer of Saudi Arabia. According to one estimate, sales of British weapons to Saudi Arabia increased nearly 500 percent, to 4.6 billion pounds ($6.4 billion), after 2015, when the Saudi intervention in Yemen began.

The UK has increased its weapons sales by around 500 percent since the onset of the Saudi invasion, according to a report by The Independent.

Jeremy Corbyn has accused the government of "colluding" in war crimes by Saudi forces engaged in Yemen's bitter civil war as the start of a three-day visit by the Kingdom's crown prince was greeted with protests. The advertisements have appeared on billboards, on taxis, on trucks and in newspapers. Should America be doing business with the Saudi regime? He will be coming fresh from a visit to Egypt, where, in addition to political leaders and Muslim religious figures, he visited the Coptic Pope and invited the community to come to Saudi Arabia.

In Cairo, the crown prince asserted that his policies were working. The Crown Prince also met the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William. The Save the Children charity protested the visit by installing a statue of a child near parliament "to draw attention to the violence that is being fuelled, in part, by British-made bombs".

Around 200 demonstrators also lined up outside Downing Street, where the crown prince visited May. The pro-Saudi messages were certainly mocked: Some noted that the advertisements looked better suited to a "sleazy gentlemen's club" and pointed out that online ads praising Mohammed had appeared next to articles about Saudi corruption.

May later met Prince Mohammed at her Downing Street office, extending a warm diplomatic welcome to the conservative kingdom's heir apparent and agreeing a 65 billion pound ($90.29 billion) trade and investment target.

However, the protests outside Parliament seem to have resonated inside Westminster.

"The link that we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, it is an important one, and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country", May said, pausing her answer briefly as opposition lawmakers cried "Shame!"

May said she would raise humanitarian concerns, saying, "We are all concerned about the appalling humanitarian situation in Yemen and the effect that it is having on people, particularly women and children".

The number caused widespread outrage and calls for May to end sales to Saudi Arabia.

The meeting will focus on support for reforms in Saudi Arabia, trade and investment relations and defence and security cooperation.

The inaugural meeting of a UK Saudi strategic partnership council, which will meet annually to discuss bilateral and worldwide issues, will be held at No 10 and attended by UK and Saudi ministers.

The visit comes as the London Stock Exchange also vies for the Saudi Aramco oil company to be listed in the capital, in what has been described as the biggest company float in history.