PM defends UK ties with Saudi Arabia

Theresa MayImage copyright
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Theresa May has defended her trip to Saudi Arabia, saying its ties with the UK are important for security and prosperity.

The prime minister is facing questions about the UK’s support for the Saudi-led coalition which is fighting rebels in neighbouring Yemen.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said UK-made weapons were contributing to a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

But the PM said the UK was also a “significant donor” of aid.

Speaking to journalists as she travelled to Jordan, which she is visiting before travelling to Saudi Arabia, Mrs May said humanitarian aid was one of the issues she would be discussing on her trip.

She also defended the drive to strike new trade links, saying the UK had “long-term and historic relationships” with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The countries, she said, were “important for us in terms of security, they are importance for us in terms of defence and yes, in terms of trade.

“But as I said when I came to the Gulf at the end of last year, Gulf security is our security and Gulf prosperity is our prosperity.”

Women’s rights

Asked about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where – among other restrictions – women are not allowed to drive, she pointed to the changes promised as part of its Vision 2030 programme, adding: “I hope also that people see me as a woman leader will see what women can achieve and how women can be in significant positions.”

Vision 2030’s goals included increasing women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.

She added: “I’ve talked to the Saudis on a number of occasions and raised issues of this sort. We have already seen some changes.

“One of the meetings I’m going to be having when I’m in Saudi will be with a female minister. I’ll be meeting with her and talking to her about the role that she plays. And generally we do encourage people to look at women’s role in society.”

Mr Corbyn called for the immediate suspension of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

He criticised the “dictatorial Saudi monarchy’s shocking human rights record” and said the PM should focus on human rights and international law at the centre of her talks.

“The Saudi-led coalition bombing in Yemen, backed by the British government, has left thousands dead, 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and three million refugees uprooted from their homes,” he said.

Aid investment

“Yemen urgently needs a ceasefire, a political settlement, and food aid, not more bombing.

“British-made weapons are being used in a war which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.”

As part of her visit, Mrs May is also setting out details of how a £1bn package to support victims of the fighting in Syria will be spent.

Downing Street said £840m announced last year and an extra £160m of new money would provide support for refugees and countries hosting them, including Jordan.

The investment will ensure refugees do not “feel forced to make the perilous and potentially life-threatening journey to Europe”, Number 10 said.

It includes investment in education, skills and jobs.

Mrs May also announced that the UK will send military trainers to Jordan to help the country’s air force in the fight against so-called Islamic State.

PM defends UK ties with Saudi Arabia}

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