For British political journalists, the month of August has traditionally been a time to put down their pens, set aside their keyboards and decamp to the coastal resorts of Europe.
With Parliament in recess, there is a dearth of political news, with the consequence that newspaper columns are filled with dubious stories about great white sharks spotted off the coast of Cornwall or abandoned cats that miraculously find their way, unaided, from London back to their home in Aberdeen.
It’s called the silly season, but this year the silliness has failed to take hold. British newspapers are gripped by the contest for the leadership of the Conservative party, which has been continuing since early July.
No fewer than 11 Members of Parliament declared their candidacy at the outset. Those have now been whittled down to two: the former chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. The outcome of the contest will be announced on September 5, when the world’s oldest political party will have a new leader and the country a new prime minister.
At this point I must declare my own allegiance. I believe that Liz will be an excellent leader and an excellent PM. What’s more — and without wishing to tempt fate — I am highly optimistic that she will win.
I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the United Arab Emirates, and in that capacity, too, I would welcome a Truss premiership. Ms Truss recognises the importance of the UAE and the entire Gulf Co-operation Council to the future of Global Britain and the security and stability of the region.
She made that clear in December last year, when she hosted the GCC foreign ministers at Chevening House and said: “Closer economic and security ties with our Gulf partners will deliver jobs and opportunities for the British people and help make us all safer. Co-investing with the Gulf in infrastructure will help prevent low-and middle-income countries being strategically dependent on any one provider, while also boosting clean growth and encouraging enterprise and innovation to flourish.
“It is a win-win for all parties. I want us to have much deeper links in key areas like trade, investment, development and cybersecurity with a part of the world that is important to Britain’s long-term interests.”
The UK and the GCC are now actively pursuing a free-trade agreement. Its importance to both parties could scarcely be overstated. The UK’s analysis of the proposed FTA notes that, in 2019, the combined economies of the GCC were equivalent to the world‘s 13th largest economy, with a nominal GDP of £1.3 trillion. The combined economy of GCC member states make it the UK’s third largest trading partner outside the EU, with a total trade of £44.6 billion before the pandemic.
The UAE, in particular, is a hugely important partner for the United Kingdom. An estimated 120 thousand UK citizens live in Dubai, making it arguably the largest offshore British city. They are augmented by the 1.5 million or so Britons who travel to the UAE for leisure or business every year. Furthermore, each country is a major investor in the other’s economy.
The UK also understands the centrally important role of the UAE in the politics of the region. The UAE’s bold step in signing up to the Abraham Accords with Israel underlined its crucial role as a buttress against the disruptive influence of Iran and as a pathfinder for regional peace.
In short, as former international trade secretary and current Foreign Secretary, Ms Truss fully appreciates the crucial importance to the UK of maintaining strong relations with our steadfast regional ally, the UAE. I have no doubt that, under her leadership, those relations will be strengthened still further into a mainstay of regional and global security.
David Jones is Conservative MP for Clwyd West in north Wales and chairman of the UAE all-party parliamentary group in the British Parliament.