Theresa May has declared the barbaric human rights record of Gulf states should not be a bar to increased post-Brexit trade with them.
The PM will become the first female leader to attend the mega-rich Gulf Co-operation Council as she flies off to Bahrain for the dawn a new era of “closest, freest trading relationship between the UK and the Gulf post Brexit.”
Mrs May called for closer ties with Saudi Arabia despite the kingdom’s horrendous human rights abuses, as she announced that visa restrictions for visitors from the oil rich nation would be relaxed.
Ahead of a charm offensive with six key Arab leaders, Mrs May argued “we don’t uphold our values and human rights by turning our back on this issue; we achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries.”
The government have pinpointed £30 billion of “high-value opportunities for British businesses across fifteen different sectors over the next five years in the Gulf”.
The PM also announced that the UK will participate in the Dubai World Expo 2020 to boost trade with 180 other nations.
The PM also hinted that any free trade arrangement between the UK and the Gulf would unlock significantly more trade once we quit the EU.
The announcement is the first regional approach to new trade that the UK has directly explored since June’s historic referendum.
Strict EU laws prevent Britain from signing new trade deals until we have officially quit the union, but last night it was clear the government is prepared to stretch the rules.
Over the course of the next two days the PM hopes to agree a new joint working group with six Arab counties to examine how we can “seize the opportunity to forge a new trade arrangement between the UK and the Gulf.”
She said the “Gulf is already our largest investor and our second biggest non-European export market” and claimed the new deal will include investment in “energy to education, infrastructure to healthcare”.
The PM will dine with the six leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman on Tuesday, before giving a speech on Wednesday.
Mrs May said: “No doubt there will be some people in the UK who say we shouldn’t seek stronger trade and security ties with these countries because of their record on human rights.
“But we don’t uphold our values and human rights by turning our back on this issue.
“We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform.
“That is how Britain can be a force for good in the world as well as helping to keep our people safe and create new opportunities for business.”
Mrs May noted “a century of ties with Saudi Arabia” but added: “in recent years our relationship hasn’t felt as close as it is old. I want to change that.”
“There is so much we can do together – whether it is helping one another to prevent terrorist attacks, Gulf investment regenerating cities across the UK or British businesses helping Gulf countries to achieve their long term vision of reform.”
A new agreement with Saudi Arabia to allow British businesses to obtain 5-year multiple entry visas for the first time.
Security and the civil wars in Syria and Yemen will also feature in Mrs May’s talks on the margins of the Bahrain gathering.
The PM will also address British Troops on her two day visit to the region.
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