Trust between friends is at the heart of the UAE-UK relationship

A new round of initiatives between both countries is the result of many decades of collaboration

It is hard to overstate the significance of the visit to London earlier this month of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The scale and breadth of the agreements signed under his supervision and that of Prime Minister Boris Johnson exceeded all expectations in the comprehensive nature of their coverage of issues affecting our mutual prosperity, security and global vision. They are at one and the same time an acknowledgement of the past and of the firm foundations on which they were built, but also a leap, a “Partnership for the Future”, touching on those areas where the world has moved on and needs fleet-footed partners to do the same.

Despite our long history together, Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague pledged, when they came to office in 2010, to restore the UK’s regional relationships which they felt their predecessors had rather let slip, in what they described as a “Gulf Initiative”. In 2010, the first Taskforce between the UAE and UK was inaugurated and it has met steadily over the years handling defence, business, culture and education. Skillfully guided throughout by UAE Presidential Adviser Dr Anwar Gargash, who for so long was the Minister of State at the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this taskforce set and met ambitious challenges related to new targets for trade and investment and was a hub for the building of a common regional security and defence perspective vital to both states.

I like to believe today’s announcements build on the trust engendered by this patient work, but they are truly on a scale that Dr Gargash and I would not have imagined in our first meetings. So many things catch the eye. We will now have a Partnership for the Future, handled personally at the highest level of Government, focusing on sustainable prosperity and global issues. Within the compass of these pillars will come the building blocks our peoples will need in order to have confidence that, in a world of many uncertainties, there exists the mechanisms to keep them and their families safe and ensure their future.

The scope of the Sovereign Investment Partnership, building on Mubadala’s $1 billion investment in UK’s life sciences, announced only in March 2021, to more than $13.5bn over the next five years will attract much attention. That it is focused on the newest technologies, clean and renewable energies and will tie in closely with research and job creation in both countries, delivers on many vital needs. In other elements of today’s unveilings, ADNOC, Masdar and BP will pool their knowledge to overcome challenges; improved broadband, a key UK Government domestic pledge, will be enhanced by an almost $700m investment; a memorandum of understanding will facilitate the transfer of knowledge on AI, and a joint Space committee will be formed, on the back of the UK’s renewed interest and the successful UAE Hope probe mission. While new existential extraterritorial threats have emerged with ferocity, the joint work that will take place on health and vaccines, and on climate, drought and the terrible implications of rising temperatures, will seek to respond to the adage that no one is safe until we are all safe.

Looking at the events surrounding the announcement, I felt strongly that there was something extra that was more than the sum of the various parts of these agreements, impressive though they were. So much of the modern world appears to be about mistrust, the deliberate undermining of fact, information or intent, so that no one believes anyone anymore. Ultimately the destruction of trust between states can only benefit those with ill intent to us all.

To see, therefore, two states making such commitments – and indeed personal commitments – to each other should surely reinforce the confidence of peoples whose personal and family security requires a degree of faith in those who lead them. The scale of the mutual pacts made cannot be forgotten easily, or be allowed to slip away, as they affect vital parts of each other’s infrastructure and well-being. They lay down markers to which future leaders must adhere.

The agreements recognise a changing Middle East. The recognition in the official communique of the Abraham Accords notes the benefits that economic relationships with Israel can have on the jobs and prosperity needed throughout the region, but in the same breath does not allow the issue of Palestine to be lost, if the Accords are to have their fullest effect. Whatever uncertainty there may be surrounding the role of the United States, or any external partners, the UAE and UK are saying that they are here for each other, and their new annual Strategic Dialogue will underpin that.

This moment has been long in the making, but even so I think we can call it a good day’s work, and a great start to the next fifty years, for both Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Mr Johnson.

Published: September 24th 2021, 4:00 AM
Alistair Burt

Alistair Burt

Alistair Burt chairs the Emirates Society, the UK-UAE Friendship Group, in the UK. He was the UK Government Minister for the Middle East between 2010-13 and 2017-19