Brexit provides the United Kingdom with a unique opportunity to renew ties with the wider international community. In my view, for too long the UK has been constrained in its outlook by the European Union. For that reason, our Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is absolutely right to be refocusing our government on rebuilding a “global Britain”. Relations with the United Arab Emirates and its allies in the Gulf must be at the very heart of this vision.
Having just returned from a visit to the UAE, which I led in my capacity as chairman of the UAE-UK All-Party Parliamentary Group, I was struck by the depth of the relationship between our two countries. We of course share a long, close history. Together, we are firm partners in the fight against extremism and in the promotion of peace and moderation in the region.
We have an economic relationship of enormous value to both our countries. The UAE is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and the UK is the UAE’s largest inward investor. My own constituents benefit greatly from our partnership with the UAE. The wings for the Airbus A380 are manufactured nearby. Expo 2020 Dubai provides us with further opportunity to build on these trading links and it is an opportunity which both our governments must grasp.
More importantly though, I believe we share a set of values which will firmly underpin our relationship, in both good times and bad. I was struck by four things in particular during my time in the UAE: the importance the UAE places on tolerance, its promotion of women, its focus on the future and its international outlook. These are areas where we can both learn from each other.
During a visit to New York University Abu Dhabi, I was stunned to learn that its 1,200 student body consists of 112 different nationalities. One British student there told me: “In the UAE you do not just learn to tolerate other cultures, you learn to appreciate them.” This outlook defines the UAE as a whole. We visited a church in Abu Dhabi on Ash Wednesday and witnessed the flood of people, from different Christian denominations, pouring into the church compound in advance of an evening service. Few churches in the UK enjoy such high attendance. At Louvre Abu Dhabi, we saw exhibitions which celebrated the different religions and races of the world. This would be quite improbable anywhere else in the Middle East.
The dynamism and determination of the senior female politicians we met left a lasting impression on all of our group. From the youngest minister, Shamma Al Mazrui, to the speaker of the Federal National Council, Amal Al Qubaisi, these women are role models for Muslim women across the world. Across the UAE, whether in the Dubai International Financial Centre courts or the Ministry of Defence, Emirati women are central to all aspects of national life.
Meeting the world's first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence also gave us much food for thought – as did a discussion on the future of air travel and a visit to Masdar City, with its groundbreaking technology. Indeed, the UAE's embracing of technology and its vision for the future is an area of which most governments should be envious. It is certainly an area where our own government could learn a thing or two.
The UAE’s internationalist outlook was apparent everywhere we went. The World Government Summit in Dubai, which we attended, brought together leaders from 21 different countries. The Hedayah Centre brings together people from a wide range of different cultures in the battle against extremism and terrorism. Some of the greatest minds in the contemporary world have found their home in the UAE. Many of them are British, such as Sir Tim Clark, the president of Emirates airline, Jasper Hope, the chief executive of Dubai Opera and former chief operating officer of London's Royal Albert Hall and ex-ambassador Tom Fletcher. They have been welcomed with open arms.
At a time when the UAE is engaged in conflict in Yemen, an Iranian threat from across the Gulf and, together with the Arab quartet of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, involved in a diplomatic dispute with Qatar, it is vital that its friends in the UK stand four-square behind one of our closest allies. Preserving the security and stability of the Gulf region must be our priority when it comes to the Middle East. The fight against extremist groups such as Daesh, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas is the greatest challenge of our time. These are matters of national security for us and we are grateful for the leadership role the UAE is taking.
We might not agree on everything but having returned home, there is one principal message that I intend to take back to my government: as we build a new, global Britain, there is no more obvious partner than the UAE.
David Jones is MP for Clwyd West in Wales and chairman of the UAE-UK All-Party Parliamentary Group