Boris Johnson pushes for closer ties with Saudi Arabia in talks with Crown Prince

2 September 2020, 23:41 | Updated: 3 September 2020, 00:21

The Crown Prince Of Saudi Arabia visiting the UK in March 2018
The Crown Prince Of Saudi Arabia visiting the UK in March 2018. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has held talks with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia about closer economic ties with the UK and the civil war in Yemen.

The prime minister held talks with Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday evening, during which he underlined the importance of the relationship between the two countries.

He also spoke about increasing trade and investment between the UK and the Arabic Kingdom, and thanked the Crown Prince "for his leadership at the G20 on the global response to coronavirus".

Also on the agenda was the conflict in neighbouring Yemen, which is still enduring a five-year-long, ongoing civil war that has seen a Saudi-led coalition facing off against Iran-backed Houthi rebels since March 2015.

The civil war has led to the deaths of more than 112,000 Yemenis, created the world's worst humanitarian crisis and devastated the poorest country in the Arab world.

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UK ministers have been accused of making a "morally indefensible" move after concerns were raised that British arms might be used against civilians in Yemen.

Relations with Saudi Arabia have been fraught in recent months after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced he was placing human rights sanctions on the 20 Saudi nationals linked to the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which took place in the country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018.

The Washington Post journalist had been a vocal critic of the Saudi regime.

However, just one day later, arms trading between the two countries resumed - attracting condemnation from the Labour Party and human rights charities in July.

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Speaking on Wednesday, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The prime minister spoke to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, this evening.

"He reiterated the importance of the UK's close relationship with Saudi Arabia and stressed our commitment to strengthening UK-KSA trade and investment.

"They also discussed the crisis in Yemen and support for the work of UN special envoy Martin Griffiths.

"The prime minister thanked Mohammed bin Salman for his leadership at the G20 on the global response to coronavirus, and looked forward to the upcoming G20 leaders' summit."

It comes just a day after Saudi Arabia's top military commander in the country's war in Yemen was removed from his post.

Lieutenant General Fahad bin Turki bin Abdulaziz, along with other officials, formed part of an anti-corruption investigation, the kingdom said in a statement on Tuesday.

However, other potential rivals to bin Salman's rule have also been targeted in similar anti-corruption drives in the past.

The now-sacked commander is a prince in Saudi Arabia's large ruling family in charge of allied forces in the conflict.

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