UK-UAE: Old allies form a new partnership

The two countries are focusing on tackling shared global challenges while promoting prosperity

Sheikh Mohamed with Rishi Sunak on the sidelines of Cop27, the climate conference, at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. UAE Presidential Court
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On Monday, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly set out his vision for the future of the UK’s long-term relationship with countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Mr Cleverly is keen to develop mutually beneficial partnerships with countries that will be increasingly influential in the future. The Foreign Secretary was clear that this is not an exclusionary vision – it’s not about a new grouping. It is about working with all those countries who will shape the future of the international order, and with whom we share the fundamental values of sovereignty, territorial integrity and fair economic exchange. He went on to say that we have seen the power of inclusive coalitions and partnerships in delivering, for example, the Black Sea Grain Initiative, where a range of countries have co-operated to achieve an incredibly important outcome. He added that we may not have agreed with all countries on everything, but we have co-operated based on mutual interest and shared values.

The UK will forge stronger diplomatic and economic ties with those countries who will be crucial for the future. New challenges need new partnerships; to tackle poverty around the world, to reduce deaths in conflicts and to promote growth internationally.

We want meaningful relationships based on mutual benefit and a shared belief in free trade and territorial sovereignty. So the UK will seek to boost development, defence, technology, cyber security, climate change adaption and environmental protection partnerships. The UK’s relationship with the UAE is already on this path. We are old allies with a deep and historic relationship but our new Partnership for the Future, which we signed last year, focuses on the priorities for our journey ahead and tackles the shared global challenges that we face while also promoting prosperity and security for our citizens, and expanding the exchange of knowledge, skills and ideas between our two countries.

James Cleverly, chairman of the Conservative Party, arrives for a meeting of cabinet minsters at number 10 Downing Street in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. Boris Johnson will change the law to ensure the Brexit transition phase is not extended, setting up a new cliff-edge for a no-deal split with the European Union at the end of next year. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

The international order built with allies post-1945, including through the UN, enabled an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity but we are living in a momentous period when the pace of change is accelerating with hurricane force, and there are challenges to the principles of that international order, most obviously in the global instability caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the global economic damage that this has created around the world.

With rapidly growing populations and a growing share of global wealth, we know that countries across the Global South will play a far greater role in shaping the way the world looks over the century to come. They will have a more powerful voice on the global stage and the Foreign Secretary has this week outlined Britain’s ambition to forge even tighter links with these future partner countries and regions, not just for the now, but for decades to come. The UAE bridges both the Global North and South and plays an increasingly important role on the international stage, including through its current membership of the UN Security Council and as host of Cop28 next year.

Trade and investment are central to the UK's relationship with the UAE. Bilateral trade was more than £13 billion last year (1 per cent of total UK trade). The UAE committed to a £10 billion Sovereign Investment Partnership into key British sectors, and their direct investment into the UK is growing further. Our trade and bilateral relationship is underpinned by the significant presence of British nationals (more than 120,000) and British businesses (more than 5,000) based in the UAE.

Through our new and existing partnerships, the UK needs to offer a credible and reliable alternative to countries such as Russia. Of course, the UK will maintain existing solid relationships with allies, but also look as we have with allies such as the UAE to new partnerships with countries that are influential, growing wealthier, happy to seek their own paths in their own interests and want an amplified voice on the world stage. These future powers will be crucial in the years to come and the UK will pursue future-focused mutually beneficial partnerships with them as they do so, through patient diplomacy and a bespoke offer of trade, development assistance, expertise, cultural links, security and strong bilateral diplomatic ties.

That UK offer to these future partner countries will be tailored to their needs and the UK’s strengths, and will be backed up with reliable sources of infrastructure investment.

We recognise that in the past, we have perhaps been too transactional, too impatient. Now we will show strategic endurance, and a willingness to commit for the long term with foreign policy, consistently planning for tomorrow, scanning the horizon, and preparing us for the next 10, 15 and 20 years ahead. We are clear that we want the UAE to be an equal partner on this journey.

Published: December 14, 2022, 4:00 AM