Britain is ready to prioritise security, investment and education cooperation with Saudi Arabia during a visit to London next week by Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Theresa May, the prime minister, said she would welcome Prince Mohammed as she seeks a leading role in Vision 2030, his blueprint for transforming Saudi Arabia’s society and economy.
The trip from March 7th to March 9th was confirmed as part of a tour by the crown prince that will take in the United States and France.
The British government views Vision 2030 as a roadmap for Saudi Arabia to become a global investment powerhouse with a more diversified economy. An official statement alluded to the forthcoming stock market flotation of Saudi Aramco, the state oil enterprise, saying the crown prince would explore “an opportunity to explore ways in which Saudi Arabia can, working with the City of London, achieve this goal”.
“The partnership between the UK and Saudi Arabia already helps make both of our countries safer through intelligence-sharing which has saved British lives, and more prosperous, with thousands of jobs created in the UK and substantial opportunities for British companies in Saudi Arabia,” she said. “The visit of the Crown Prince will establish the platform for that relationship to become even stronger.
“Saudi Arabia is changing. We have seen recent decisions to allow women to drive from June this year, a target for women to make up one third of the Saudi workforce by 2030, and a move to develop sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism. These are all sectors where the UK leads the world and where there are new opportunities to work together.”
The crown prince is expected to spend part of the visit at Windsor Castle, one of the main residences of The Queen where the senior royals will reflect on the long ties between the ruling dynasties of both countries.
There will also be a series of protests on the fringes of the visit, particularly over the conflict in Yemen with many members of the public greatly concerned over the suffering and shortages in the country. Mrs May said that the relationship was robust enough to allow British politicians to raise their concerns directly. “Our strong relationship with Saudi Arabia enables us to talk frankly and constructively about issues where we both have concerns, such as regional security and the conflict and humanitarian situation in Yemen,” she said.
As with every major British event, the looming exit from the European Union sets the prism for the government’s overtures to the 32-year old son of King Salman, who was appointed crown prince last year.
“Our vision for Global Britain is that of an outward-looking country strengthening our relationships around the world and standing up for our values, not turning in on ourselves and refusing to engage,” added Mrs May. “And the Crown Prince’s visit will be an opportunity to do just that for the benefit of people here at home and in Saudi Arabia.”
Officials said Mrs May discussed the scope of the visit with her cabinet earlier on Tuesday, including the much anticipated stock market listing of state oil company Saudi Aramco - potentially the biggest float in history.
"The fact that there is a potential listing of Saudi Aramco was discussed, but in no more terms than that," the spokesman said.
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, will chaperone the crown prince for parts of the visit. Diplomats claim the two men "hit it off" and the personal chemistry between the pair will be on display during the tour.
Highlights of the British/Saudi relationship ahead of Mohamed bin Salman's March visit:
- We have an extensive defence cooperation programme across the services, with over 250 British personnel working in the country. There are vital national security interests in maintaining and developing our relationship with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the major political, energy, diplomatic and economic power in the Middle East and its position in Islam (home to the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah) gives it unmatched convening power in the Arab and wider Muslim worlds.
- 100,000 British pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia each year to perform Umrah and 23,000 each year visit for Hajj.
- Over the past five years, the UK – Saudi bilateral trade relationship has increased by over £2.3bn and in 2016 trade in goods and services was worth almost £9bn. Indeed, since 2010 Saudi Arabia has been the third fastest growing market for UK exports and the third fastest growing market for UK imports of goods.
- The UK is also the second largest cumulative foreign investor in Saudi Arabia after the US. There are approximately 300 UK/Saudi Joint Ventures with total investment estimated at around US$17.5bn.
- 90 Saudi schools deliver an international curriculum with British examinations and over 130,000 UK qualifications delivered in Saudi Arabia every year. 15,000 Saudi students study in the UK at any one time.
- In 2016, the UK was the most visited country in Western Europe from Gulf Cooperation Council countries, with almost 20 per cent of the visitors from Saudi Arabia. The average spend for Saudi travellers to the UK is £2,370 per visit. Overall visits from Saudi Arabia to the UK are expected to grow by 20 per cent between 2016 and 2020.