The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has been invited to visit Britain this autumn to help cement a major trade deal with the Gulf, UK government sources have told The National.
Although the visit by Prince Mohammed bin Salman has not been officially announced, it was reported that a meeting with King Charles III would top the agenda. If he accepts the invitation, it would be his first visit in five years.
The Crown Prince would also hold high-level discussions with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over the proposed post-Brexit free trade deal with the Gulf Co-operation Council.
Government sources said an invitation had been made but Downing Street was unable to officially confirm there had been an “invite or visit date confirmed”.
The two leaders held a lengthy telephone call on Thursday during which Mr Sunak told the Crown Prince that he “looked forward to meeting in person at the earliest opportunity”.
Mr Sunak looked forward to “personally deepening the long-standing ties between the UK and Saudi Arabia” as the kingdom experienced a “profound social and economic transformation under Vision 2030”, Downing Street said in statement.
During the conversation, the Prime Minister mentioned developing the two countries’ trade and investment relationship, “collaborating in new cutting-edge industries, and to strengthen our close co-operation on defence and security”.
The Prime Minister also reiterated Britain’s commitment to supporting Saudi Arabia’s security and regional stability, and praised the kingdom’s “constructive and positive leadership on Ukraine” following the recent talks in Jeddah.
“The leaders agreed on the importance of allies working together to end the bloodshed in Ukraine and support a just and lasting peace,” Downing Street said.
Mr Sunak also “welcomed progress” on the conflict in Yemen, where Britain “will continue to back efforts to extend the ceasefire and alleviate the humanitarian crisis”.
Britain’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir William Patey, suggested the kingdom’s leadership in global politics was a key driver for the invitation.
“Saudi Arabia’s importance in the Gulf and in the world has increased in terms of its importance to Britain as a security partner, a partner in counterterrorism and in trade,” he told the BBC.
It is understood the British government wants to restore stronger political and diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia following controversy over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Prince Mohammed has already been received in France.
Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, former prime minister Boris Johnson held talks with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh as oil prices surged.
While Prince Mohammed was invited to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in September last year, another member of the Saudi royal family went instead.
The autumn invitation was widely reported in the British media, with The Times describing a potential visit as of “huge importance, overdue, intended to strengthen close defence links, likely to boost British exports to this vast market and underlining Britain’s long involvement in the Middle East”.
Saudi Arabia has increased its links to Britain in recent years, especially following its Public Investment Fund's purchase of Newcastle United in 2021.