The Health Secretary said the UK could challenge the Gulf state over human rights abuses and still have an economic relationship.
14 March 2022
The UK will continue to challenge Saudi Arabia over human rights abuses despite reports Boris Johnson will turn to the Gulf to supply oil and gas, a Cabinet minister has said.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Britain had a “very candid and frank” relationship with the Gulf state, as the Prime Minister was reported to be preparing for a trip to Riyadh amid the cost of living crisis.
The invasion of Ukraine by the Kremlin has put more pressure on energy costs as the West tries to wean itself off supplies of Russian oil and gas.
Mr Johnson reportedly plans to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon in the hope his kingdom can raise its production of oil and gas to make up for a reduced reliance on Russia.
The Saudi prince has been repeatedly criticised for human rights abuses and, over the weekend, the country’s state-run Saudi Press Agency announced the executions of 81 people convicted of a variety of crimes, marking the largest mass execution conducted there in recent memory.
Mr Javid said the country is an “important” economic partner.
He told LBC: “We’ve had a long-standing relationship with the Saudi government where there’s always a very frank exchange.
“We don’t agree with our approach on human rights – we’re always right to call that out and to talk to them, frankly, about that.
“At the same time, it is also possible to have an economic relationship.
“You know, whether people like it or not, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer of crude oil and it’s important, especially at the time of a major global energy crisis, that we have these talks with them.”
Mr Javid told Times Radio “when it comes to human rights there’s a lot we disagree on” with the Saudis.
“And the executions that you just referred to (are) clearly things that we would not support,” he said.
“But that said, it is an important country, especially when it comes to energy supplies and in terms of (an) economic relationship, and it is right that we’re continuing to talk.”
Speaking on Sky News, he added: “We’re not dependent directly as a country on their oil but energy prices and access to energy is a hugely important issue.”
The Prime Minister is hoping his personal relationship with the Saudi price will help start a conversation about Gulf states supplying more oil and gas, The Times reported on Saturday.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh warned that “under Mohammed bin Salman the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has become increasingly repressive”.
The organisation’s intervention came after Newcastle United travelled to Saudi Arabia for a mid-season training camp in January.
The country’s Public Investment Fund – of which the prince is chairman – owns an 80% stake of the consortium which owns the football club.
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe refused to comment on the Saudi political situation over the weekend.
“I’m just going to answer questions on the game and on football,” he said. “It’s only right that I stick to football.”
However, Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel questioned the Premier League’s ownership tests.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has had all of his UK assets frozen – except for the club, which is allowed to operate with restrictions – in the wake of Downing Street claiming to have proven the Russian-Israeli billionaire’s links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose forces invaded Ukraine on February 24.
The attack led to sanctions being placed on Russia and a number of oligarchs, including Mr Abramovich.
Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK’s Foreign Affairs Human Rights Adviser, said: “The shocking news about mass executions in Saudi Arabia makes it more important than ever that the Prime Minister challenges the Saudi authorities over their absolutely appalling human rights record and that he speaks publicly about human rights during this trip.
“In particular, Boris Johnson should raise the need for Saudi Arabia to end its repression of human rights defenders – including by releasing prisoners of conscience and ensuring that lengthy travel bans are lifted for people like Loujain al-Hathloul and Raif Badawi.
“Understandably much of the world’s attention is currently focused on Ukraine, but Saudi Arabia mustn’t be allowed a free pass over the civilians being killed by Saudi coalition airstrikes in Yemen.
“The key point is that Saudi oil shouldn’t be allowed to buy the world’s silence over Saudi Arabia’s terrible human rights record.”