LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May hailed Britain’s links to defence and security ally Saudi Arabia yesterday, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Britain’s Queen Elizabeth for lunch at the start of a high profile visit to London.
“The link that we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, it is an important one, and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country,” May said.
Crown Prince Mohammed lunched with the British monarch on the first leg of a trip packed with displays of diplomatic affection designed to help widen longstanding defence ties into a more far-reaching partnership.
Both countries aim to broaden their existing relationship: Britain is looking for trading partners as it exits the European Union, and Saudi Arabia needs to brief investors about its domestic reforms.
Crown Prince Mohammed and May hosted the inaugural meeting of the UK-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council. It agreed a landmark ambition for $90 billion of mutual trade and investment opportunities over the coming years, including direct investment in the UK and new Saudi public procurement with UK companies.
May said the UK was “a firm supporter of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, an ambitious blueprint for internal reform that aims to create a thriving economy and a vibrant society – conditions that we agree are essential to the kingdom’s long-term stability and success.”
She noted that as a world leader across a range of sectors, the UK was “uniquely placed to partner Saudi Arabia in delivering these vital reforms.”
May welcomed recent reforms in Saudi Arabia, including on women attending sporting events and the cinema, and being legally able to drive from June.
Crown Prince Mohammed and May received a briefing from UK national security officials on foreign policy issues, including Yemen. They also discussed Iran, “agreeing on the importance of working together to counter Iran’s destabilising regional activity,” and Iraq, including the importance of backing reconstruction efforts.
During the Crown Prince’s visit, business deals are possible with British defence group BAE Systems and European weapons maker MBDA, and initial agreements could be concluded on gas exploration, petrochemicals and other industries, according to British and Saudi sources.
The three-day visit will include a second royal audience – dinner with the Prince Charles and Prince William – a briefing with national security officials, and a visit to the prime minister’s country residence at Chequers today for a private dinner.