British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has expressed his will to meet Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman “at the earliest opportunity”, confirming earlier reports of such an invitation being planned.
In a statement by a spokesperson from Sunak’s office, the prime minister and the Saudi crown prince had a phone call in which they committed to “continue working closely together to progress UK-Saudi cooperation and looked forward to meeting in person at the earliest opportunity.”
In their call, the two leaders reportedly discussed the development of trade, investment, defence and security ties, with Sunak also reiterating the UK’s commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and the surrounding region.
The statement confirms a report last month by the Times newspaper which first revealed that the British government was inviting Bin Salman in the coming months.
The expected visit has been widely condemned by human rights activists and some British political figures over concerns regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, particularly since Bin Salman took over at the helm. In particular they raised his approval of the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
Layla Moran, the foreign affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats Party, was quoted as saying that it “beggars belief” that Sunak “is rolling out the red carpet” for the de-facto Saudi ruler. “This man – who authorised the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and presides over a dismal human rights record – should not be receiving a warm welcome from the UK government.”
Amnesty International’s Polly Truscott was also quoted as stressing: “There must be no question of the UK rolling out the red carpet for Mohammed bBn Salman or of the Saudi ruler being able to use this visit to rehabilitate himself on the world stage.”
Bin Salman’s visit, which is expected to take place in the autumn this year, will be the crown prince’s first visit to the UK since the killing of Khashoggi. The UK – whose economy is still reeling from the effects of Brexit – is hoping to sign trade agreements with Riyadh and benefit from Saudi’s massive spending campaigns.