British Prime Minister Theresa May is in Bahrain today to join Gulf Arab leaders at a summit for talks on trade for Britain post-Brexit.
Defence ties will also be discussed as Britain builds a new naval base in Bahrain; advocacy groups have urged May to use the visit to raise human rights concerns in the country.
“I will have the opportunity to talk to all six leaders about how we can develop our trade relationship, as well as cooperation on security and defence,” May said yesterday.
May is the first British PM and the first woman to attend the annual summit of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“As the UK leaves the EU, we should seize the opportunity to forge a new trade arrangement between the UK and the Gulf,” May said.
“This could transform the way we do business and lock in a new level of prosperity for our people for generations to come.”
In October last year, Britain began building a naval base outside Bahrain’s capital Manama, marking it as its first new permanent base on Middle Eastern soil in four decades.
Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa stated how he is looking “forward to expanding joint cooperation in the fields of trade, investment and security.”
International human rights groups have criticised the close western ties Bahrain has with many states. The kingdom’s Sunni minority rulers have cracked down heavily since protestors led by Bahrain’s Shia majority who called for a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister during the Arab Spring in 2011.
Amnesty International said yesterday how the summit will give May a “unique opportunity to raise concerns over a pattern of recurring human rights violations throughout the region.”
“In recent years across the Gulf we have seen human rights activists, peaceful political opponents and government critics systematically targeted in the name of security,” Randa Habib, the London-based watchdog’s Middle East and North Africa director said.
“It is high time for allies of the GCC to stop putting business and security cooperation before human rights, and Theresa May must not squander this opportunity to raise key rights issues,” she further added.