Rishi Sunak accused of ‘rolling out red carpet’ as Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman to visit UK


Rishi Sunak accused of 'rolling out red carpet' as Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman to visit UK

Rishi Sunak has been accused of “rolling out the red carpet” for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman just five years after the murder of a US-based journalist caused outrage around the world.

Sources have told Sky News that the crown prince has been invited to visit the UK and that the meeting will take place in the autumn.

Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, was accused of ordering the assassination of the Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 – a charge he has denied and blamed on rogue agents.

The scheduled visit will be his first to Britain since the murder, which was widely condemned and saw him shunned on the world stage.

A Downing Street spokesperson declined to comment on reports of the meeting with the Saudi leader when approached by Sky News, while a source said there was currently “no date in the diary”.

Rishi Sunak accused of 'rolling out red carpet' as Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman to visit UK

However, a Downing Street spokesperson later said the pair had spoken on the phone earlier on Thursday.

They said Mr Sunak “welcomed the opportunity to speak to the crown prince and looked forward to personally deepening the long-standing ties between the UK and Saudi Arabia”.

Jamal Khashoggi killing: Anger as US offers Saudi crown prince immunity over journalist’s murder

According to the Number 10 readout, the two leaders discussed trade and investment and defence and security, including the war in Ukraine and the conflict in Yemen.

“The leaders agreed on the importance of allies working together to end the bloodshed in Ukraine and support a just and lasting peace,” they said.

“The prime minister and crown prince said they would continue working closely together to progress UK-Saudi cooperation and looked forward to meeting in person at the earliest opportunity,” Number 10 added.

Lib Dems and Labour share ‘deep concerns’

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson, Layla Moran, said it “beggars belief that Rishi Sunak is rolling out the red carpet for Mohammed Bin Salman”.

She added: “This man – who authorised the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and presides over a dismal human rights record – should not be receiving a warm welcome from the UK government.

“It sends a signal to MBS that he can continue acting with impunity and we and our allies will do nothing about it.”

Labour’s Angela Rayner said Mr Sunak should use the visit to “have a conversation about human rights”.

She said Labour had “really deep concerns” about human rights but that you “also have to have dialogue”.

“It’s important that whilst he’s over here, that there is dialogue and that we do challenge,” she told reporters.

“Part of our role internationally is to challenge other nations and countries and say, ‘this is not what we accept and this is not how you do things’.

“And to try and influence in that way – if you don’t, then you don’t have any influence whatsoever.”

Ukraine war changed stance after alleged killing

Saudi officials allegedly killed the Washington Post columnist at the country’s consulate in Istanbul by reportedly dismembering him – although his remains have never been found.

The US intelligence community concluded Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had approved the killing of the well-known and respected journalist, while a UN expert who investigated the murder also said there was “credible evidence” that MBS was responsible for the murder.

Any visit to the UK will be interpreted as the latest sign of Western countries softening their stance towards the controversial leader and follows a similar move by the US to integrate the crown prince back into the diplomatic fold.

Rishi Sunak accused of 'rolling out red carpet' as Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman to visit UK

UK efforts to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia ramped up following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson visited Riyadh in March 2022 in the hope it would help persuade the kingdom to boost its own production of oil and gas and end the Western “addiction” to Russian fossil fuels.

Last year, US President Joe Biden was accused of “capitulation” after his administration said the crown prince should not face legal action over Khashoggi’s murder.

The State Department declared that Prince Mohammed’s high office should protect him from prosecution for his alleged role in the slaying – despite Mr Biden previously vowing to make a “pariah” out of the country’s rulers.

The official call for MBS to be granted immunity came as he faced a lawsuit filed by the fiancée of Khashoggi and the rights group he founded, Democracy for the Arab World Now, which was dismissed in December by a US judge.

Sunak set for second meeting despite concerns

The UK visit will not be the first time Mr Sunak has met Prince Mohammed.

Last November, Mr Sunak met the crown prince on the margins of the G20 summit in Bali, where the two leaders discussed social reforms, women’s rights and civil liberties.

However, Number 10 said at the time that Mr Sunak did not raise the murder of Mr Khashoggi.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK’s foreign policy adviser, said the crown prince “must be properly held to account for abuses by Saudi officials, including Khashoggi’s murder”.

She said: “There must be no question of the UK rolling out the red carpet for Mohammed Bin Salman or of the Saudi ruler being able to use this visit to rehabilitate himself on the world stage.

“The visit looks set to coincide with the five-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s sickening assassination and dismemberment at the hands of Saudi agents in Turkey, a crime which has essentially been covered up by the unrepentant Saudi authorities.”


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