Test-Run State Visit for Future Saudi King as Britain Seeks to Deepen Ties


The visit of the Saudi Crown Prince to London, where he will hold talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May on defense and economic cooperation and meet Queen Elizabeth II has been widely advertised across the British capital. The Prince’s reception, initially put off due to fears over public protests has brought to light a number of issues surrounding the already deep relationship between London and Riyadh.

War in Yemen

Bin Salman was the driving force behind the Saudi military operation against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which began in March 2015, while he was minister of defense. The conflict dramatically escalated when Houthis swept into the Yemeni capital San’a and forced the government of President Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee to Aden and then to Saudi Arabia. British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to raise the issue of civilian casualties in the war when she and Prince Mohammad discuss enhanced military cooperation. Britain has sold at least US$6.4 billion worth of weaponry to the Kingdom since the beginning of the bombing campaign in 2015. Only 6 percent of the British public approves of UK weapons sales to Saudi Arabia as a result of the war and the humanitarian situation, according to the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Saudi Aramco

Of particular interest to the British government has been the privatization of the Saudi state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco, which is set to be publicly listed later this year in what is expected to be the largest public offering of a company in financial history. With an estimated value of US$2 trillion, the location for the listing has yet to be publicly announced although the most commonly floated venues are the New York, London and Hong Kong stock exchanges. Britain is particularly keen to deepen its financial links with the Gulf region as a means to offset any potential declines in trade with the European Union after it leaves the bloc in 2019.

Domestic Repression

Recent YouGov polling of the British public has consistently shown widespread unease with the closeness of the British relationship to a government they see as having an unusually poor human rights record. 39 percent respondents believe that Britain should treat Saudi Arabia as an enemy state, more than those who agree with treating as an ally. The responses represented a poorer image of the Kingdom held by Britons than those of Turkey, Russia or China. Only 4 percent of respondents described the Kingdom as “good” on human rights issues while 80 percent felt the opposite.

© Sputnik/ Sergey Guneev

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