Less than a third of Brits support UK trade deals with Saudi Arabia, according to recently released government figures on public attitudes which were revealed as the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, meets senior figures in the oil-rich kingdom.
A survey carried out by the Department for International Trade (DIT) earlier this year showed just 27 per cent of the public would support a trade deal with Saudi Arabia compared with 64 per cent for both Australia and New Zealand, for example, and 57 per cent for the US.
The 27 per cent is probably a high figure in contrast to the mood of the British public at this moment following the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United football club. Public support for doing business with Riyadh is likely to have plummeted even more as a result of the sharp focus on the kingdom's human rights abuses exposed during the debate over the takeover bid.
Prior to her tour of the Gulf, Truss gave the impression that the percentage of people supporting trade with the Saudi could be as high as 70 per cent and therefore the Tory government was justified in seeking trade deals with the kingdom.
Suspicious about the figures, the Shadow International Trade Secretary, Emily Thornberry, wrote to the polling company BMG for verification. With the level of public support much lower than what Truss announced, Labour has accused the Tory minister of misleading the public.
"Thanks to Liz Truss's latest blunder, we now know that the public support she was claiming for her trade deals is nothing of the sort," Thornberry is reported saying.
"The government simply does not have a mandate to take these actions on the country's behalf without properly consulting the public about what each agreement means, and who we're doing [it] with."
The survey was the fourth time the DIT had tested public opinion on trade policy, but the first time a question on Saudi Arabia was included.
Truss' overestimation of public support for trade with the Saudis isn't the first time the UK government has been accused of misleading the country over its relations with the authoritarian regime in Riyadh. Earlier this year it was revealed that Britain's arms sale to Saudi Arabia was three times higher than previously thought.