Boris Johnson interview: use history to strike trade deals with the Arabian Gulf

The Gulf is already the UK’s third biggest trading partner outside the EU

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a meeting with President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to sign a strategic partnership deal with the president in the face of Russia's 'destabilising behaviour' towards the country, at Downing Street on October 8, 2020 in London, England. The meeting with Mr Johnson is part of a two-day visit by Mr Zelenskyy to the UK which has included a tour of the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier in Portsmouth. (Photo by Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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Boris Johnson has spoken of his determination for Britain to become a major trading partner with the Gulf region after it has formally cut ties to the European Union, in an interview with The National.

The Prime Minister is struggling to strike terms with the EU for a new trade relationship and warned on Friday that a ‘no deal’ was becoming increasingly likely.

With that partnership in the balance, Mr Johnson suggested that Britain’s historical ties would present a useful platform to increased trade with countries like the UAE in the Gulf region.

Mr Johnson was asked what vision he had for Britain establishing greater links with the region as part of the UK’s future international strategy. “The Gulf is already the UK’s third biggest trading partner outside the European Union, and as we leave the EU I want to strengthen this relationship further,” he said.

“The UK will be looking to modernise our security and defence partnerships with the Gulf, support a sustainable transition towards cleaner energy and champion open and inclusive societies.”

With the potential of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, Mr Johnson is eager for a significant boost to international trade with countries outside the Eurozone. There has been a suggestion of setting up ten ‘free ports’ in Britain which would increase trade by having exemptions on duty and tax. Businesses in the Gulf countries have expressed interest in investing and building the special concessionary areas the government hopes to carve out.

Mr Johnson, who wrote After Rome, a book on early Islamic-period history, referred in his interview to Britain's long relationship with the area. "Britain has deep-seated ties to the Gulf region, dating all the way back to the Anglo–Omani Agreement in 1798 and the Maritime Treaty signed with the UAE exactly 200 years ago. Our climate and landscapes may be a little different, but we share a huge amount in terms of history, culture and a vision for the future."

In the last few years Britain's military has also increased its presence 'East of Suez,' sending more warships to the Gulf, including its new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the next year. There are also strong ties between the UK's leading defence companies and Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well the UAE.

As a reminder of the living shared history, Mr Johnson also addressed contemporary ties.

“The UK’s partnerships with Gulf nations are incredibly important for our prosperity and security,” he said.

“Some 175,000 British nationals live in the Gulf, and before Covid affected all our lives, one million Brits visited each year – to do business, forge relationships and enjoy some of that fabled sunshine.”