LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May defended Britain’s hyperlinks to defence and safety ally Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Britain’s Queen Elizabeth for lunch initially of a excessive profile go to to London.
A fiery alternate in parliament between May and opposition Labour Party chief Jeremy Corbyn underlined pressure in Britain over Prince Mohammed’s journey, which is geared toward constructing a broader financial partnership between the 2 international locations, however has sparked protests about human rights and struggle in Yemen.
“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 stated, pausing her reply briefly as opposition lawmakers cried “Shame!”.
The debate occurred as Prince Mohammed lunched with the British monarch on the primary leg of journey full of shows of diplomatic affection designed to assist the widen longstanding defence ties right into a extra far-reaching partnership.
Both international locations sense a chance to broaden their current relationship: Britain is on the lookout for buying and selling companions because it exits the European Union, and Saudi Arabia must persuade sceptical buyers about its home reforms.
But when Prince Mohammed meets May afterward Wednesday, demonstrators might be exterior protesting in opposition to each international locations’ roles in Yemen the place struggle has killed an estimated 10,000 individuals and the place eight.three million individuals rely on meals help and 400,000 youngsters have life-threatening ranges of malnutrition.
Corbyn stated British army advisers primarily based in Saudia Arabia had been “directing the war” in Yemen and that the government was colluding in occasions which confirmed indicators of being struggle crimes. May’s spokesman stated the feedback had been “strange” and he would look into them.
Foreign minister Boris Johnson led the welcoming occasion for Prince Mohammed on his arrival late on Tuesday. Wednesday’s first official engagement was a visit to Buckingham Palace to see Queen Elizabeth – a uncommon honour often reserved for heads of state.
The Saudi delegation will meet May and senior ministers inside May’s Downing Street places of work to launch a UK-Saudi “Strategic Partnership Council” – an initiative to encourage Saudi Arabia’s financial reforms and foster cooperation on points akin to schooling and tradition, in addition to defence and safety.
Britain is vying to land the stock market itemizing of state oil agency Saudi Aramco, however no resolution is predicted this week.
“We would like the Aramco share option to be issued in the United Kingdom and we will continue to suggest the City would be the best place for it,” junior overseas workplace minister Alistair Burt informed parliament.
Later this month Prince Mohammed visits the United States, which additionally needs the profitable itemizing, though sources stated each international locations might miss out.
British officers had been privately delighted on the resolution by Prince Mohammed, 32, to decide on Britain as the key western vacation spot on his first overseas journey since turning into inheritor to the Saudi throne final 12 months.
The British government is eager to develop a two-way commerce and funding relationship, eyeing each an expanded market in Saudi Arabia for service sector exports, and attracting Saudi money to finance home tasks.
Saudi’s bold inheritor needs to indicate that “shock” reforms have made his nation a greater place to speculate and a extra tolerant society.
Photographs posted on-line confirmed London taxis displaying promoting graphics welcoming Prince Mohammed, and digital billboards promoted pro-Saudi messages with the hashtag #anewsaudiarabia.
Business offers are attainable with British defence group BAE Systems and European weapons maker MBDA, and preliminary agreements might be concluded on gasoline exploration, petrochemicals and different industries, based on British and Saudi sources.
The three-day go to will embody a second Royal viewers – dinner with the Prince Charles and Prince William – a briefing with nationwide safety officers, and a prestigious go to to the prime minister’s nation residence.
May intends to make use of the non-public dinner at Chequers on Thursday, a 16th-century manor home 40 miles (60 km) northwest of London, to carry up considerations over the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, her spokesman stated.
A Saudi-led army coalition is combating the Houthi motion in Yemen, producing what the United Nation stated in January was the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
Protesters are planning to focus on the Saudi officers over Yemen and different human rights points, and Britain for licensing four.6 billion kilos of weapons gross sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.
May stated all arms gross sales had been strictly regulated, that Saudi Arabia’s involvement within the battle was backed by the U.N. Security Council and her government supported it.
Speaking to reporters in London on Monday, Saudi overseas minister Adel al-Jubeir stated his nation had did not successfully talk the explanations behind its involvement in Yemen, however that that they had not chosen to start out the struggle.
Buses have spent two days touring London with banners accusing Prince Mohammed of struggle crimes, with extra deliberate for Wednesday earlier than the principle rally, and parliament referred to as an pressing debate on the go to.
“There will be widespread concern across parties at the fact that the dictatorial head of a medieval, theocratic regime is being given the red carpet equivalent of a state visit,” stated Vince Cable, chief of the Liberal Democrat Party.
further reporting by Hesham Hajali, Editing by William Maclean