'One hostile regime to another': Fury as PM turns to brutal Saudi regime for gas and oil

16 March 2022, 00:00 | Updated: 16 March 2022, 09:12

Boris Johnson arrives at Abu Dhabi airport for his visit to the United Arab Emirates
Boris Johnson arrives at Abu Dhabi airport for his visit to the United Arab Emirates. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

In a bid to "wean the west" off of Russian gas as Putin attacks Ukraine, Boris Johnson has landed in Saudi Arabia, where 81 people were beheaded by the regime this week.

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Battling the cost-of-living crisis being compounded by the West weaning itself off Russia's oil and gas, the Prime Minister is seeking to boost Gulf oil production to alleviate soaring prices.

He will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh days after the largest mass execution in the kingdom in modern history.

But critics have questioned the choice to particularly strengthen ties with the Saudi leader after he was implicated in the assassination of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Thousands of civilian deaths have also been linked to airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition fighting the war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Ahead of his trip on Wednesday the Prime Minister declared Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates "key international partners" in efforts to reduce dependence on Russian energy after the invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Johnson argued it is necessary to strengthen ties with the nations to tackle Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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In a statement on Tuesday evening, Mr Johnson said: "The brutal and unprovoked assault President Putin has unleashed on Ukraine will have far-reaching consequences for the world, well beyond Europe's borders.

"The UK is building an international coalition to deal with the new reality we face. The world must wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons and starve Putin's addiction to oil and gas.

"Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are key international partners in that effort. We will work with them to ensure regional security, support the humanitarian relief effort and stabilise global energy markets for the longer term."

Labour's Tulip Siddiq said the UK going "cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not an energy strategy".

Asked if it is right that the UK looks to Saudi Arabia for oil, the MP told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: "We need to get people's energy bills down and we're not going to oppose something that does that. But I would say, Nick, going cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not an energy strategy.

"We're 12 years into a Conservative government. We're left exposed. We are reliant on other countries for our energy security. This is not in any way blaming market forces or the war. This is a failure, in my opinion, to act by successive prime ministers in the Conservative government."

Newly appointed minister for refugees, Lord Harrington, also told Nick the executions in Saudi Arabia are "absolutely appalling".

Asked whether he feels a bit uncomfortable about the Prime Minister's trip, Lord Harrington said: "We've got a situation here as what Putin has done will lead to a significant shortage of energy in the world. The Saudis and others will step up to the plate.

"I'm sure the Prime Minister is making the point to them about their human rights record, every single minister does, and things slowly change.

He continued: "I hope the Saudis are listening and I hope they realise that being part of a community, a world community, of countries which give human rights is in the interests of them and obviously in the interest of us."

Tory former minister Crispin Blunt urged Mr Johnson to make clear Britain's concerns to the crown prince, calling the executions a "new low for human rights" in the kingdom.

Conservative MPs and human rights watchdogs have been among those calling for the Prime Minister to question the nations on their track records, with Saudi Arabia executing 81 people convicted of crimes ranging from killings to belonging to militant groups on Saturday.

Conservative MP Julian Lewis, who chairs Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, called on the Government to ensure that "in seeking to lessen our dependence upon one source of oil and gas, we do not end up creating a source dependency on another unreliable and sometimes hostile regime".

Whilst Foreign Secretary Liz Truss previously made a point in saying the crisis in Ukraine is a "wake-up call" for free nations as she seeks to reduce dependence on "authoritarian states".

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Prince Mohammed bin Salman has largely been shunned by the West after US intelligence alleged he ordered the murder of Mr Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in 2018, something the Saudi ruler denies.

Mr Johnson, who will be deputised at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, has argued he needs to "build the widest possible coalition" to address Mr Putin's invasion.

The Prime Minister is expected to discuss the importance of allies increasing the diplomatic and economic pressure on the Kremlin while mitigating the global fallout of the war.

During the trip, Downing Street expects Saudi Arabia's alfanar group will confirm £1 billion of investment in the Lighthouse Green Fuels Project in Teesside, trying to produce sustainable aviation fuel from waste.

It is hoped the project will create more than 700 jobs during construction, and around 240 full-time jobs once fully operational.

Mr Johnson, who travelled overnight before starting the trip in the UAE on Wednesday morning, will be joined by investment minister Lord Grimstone.

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Speaking on Tonight with Andrew Marr, Jacob Rees-Mogg came to the defence of the Prime Minister, stressing the UK needs to move away from Russian oil and gas.

The Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities said the controversial trip will have an effect on living standards in the UK as oil companies warn the price of fuel is creeping up to £3 per litre.

Jacob Rees-Mogg told Andrew Marr: "Saudi Arabia sits on very large reserves that will have an effect through the oil price on the living standards of people not just in this country but globally."

The trip comes just days after Saudi Arabia executed 81 people and with Saudi Arabia still the subject of international outrage following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

But the MP pointed out that the UK has working relationships with countries across the globe who impose the death penalty including the US and China but said the UK Government is against the form of punishment.

Adding: "We have to deal with the world the way it is, not the way we would like it to be."