The UK's relations with Saudi Arabia has come under harsh criticism following the execution of 81 people in one day and the news that Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is likely to fly to Riyadh to persuade the Kingdom to increase oil production.
Saudi Arabia has rebuffed US demands to ease pressure on oil markets by increasing production. As the world's largest exporter of crude, Riyadh is in an ideal place to stabilise fuel prices which have hit new highs following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The traditional allies have not seen eye to eye since President Joe Biden came to office. But officials in Riyadh have argued that their stance on production is unrelated to their dispute with Washington, and that it rests on market demands. They say there is no shortage of oil and raising production might not affect prices, while it would reduce their spare capacity.
Despite the shock expressed by Number 10 over Saturday's mass execution, Johnson is still expected to travel to Riyadh to convince the Saudis otherwise. He will be speaking to the Saudis on "a wide range of issues, not just energy supply", according to Downing Street but, simultaneously, they criticised Riyadh over a mass execution at the weekend.
Number 10 has refused to confirm if Johnson is travelling to Saudi Arabia this week, but two officials familiar with the Prime Minister's plans are reported as saying in the Financial Times that he would visit Riyadh to push for more production, to offset the loss of Russian oil.
News of Johnson's trip so soon after the mass execution has triggered a heated debate in Parliament. Senior Conservative MP, Crispin Blunt, asked an urgent parliamentary question yesterday following the largest mass execution by Saudi Arabia in recent memory.
Blunt, a former Chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the execution of 81 men on one day was of "profound concern to this House and to our country" and that it represented "a new low for human rights and criminal justice in the Kingdom, coming only a week after the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) promised to modernise the Saudi justice system".
Blunt warned Johnson not to fly to Riyadh, as did several other members of parliament. "Actions speak louder than words," said Liberal Democrat MP, Alistair Carmichael. "If the PM goes in the next few days to Saudi Arabia, we will be sending a very clear signal that no matter what we say, we're not really bothered about this sort of thing."
Johnson is said to have planned to visit Riyadh earlier this year, but the trip was called off because of the threat of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. News of his rescheduled trip comes as Liz Truss, UK Foreign Secretary, said in a speech in Washington that the West needed to end its "strategic dependence on authoritarian regimes for our energy and for other vital resources".
Johnson is not alone in wanting to mend ties with Riyadh. Earlier this month, there was speculation that President Biden was also planning such a trip. A meeting with the Saudis would have been seen as a major U-turn in his policy. During the 2020 campaign, Biden called the Kingdom a "pariah", and early in his term, released an unclassified report assessing that Crown Prince,, Mohammed Bin Salman, had approved the operation to "capture or kill" Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.