Liam Fox to boycott Saudi conference over missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has bowed to pressure to skip a major Saudi business conference following the suspected killing of journalist Jamal Khasoggi.
Ministers had been facing growing calls not to attend the Future Investment Initiative - dubbed 'Davos in the desert' - after claims by Turkish police that Mr Khasoggi was killed in gruesome circumstances inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.
The Washington Post columnist has not been seen since he visited the consulate at the start of October and his disappearance has triggered a diplomatic crisis for the Saudi government.
The Department for International Trade today confirmed that Dr Fox will not be attending the Saudi-hosted meeting of business chiefs, which is seen as a key public relations vehicle for the country and its regime.
A string of major businesses including HSBC and Standard Chartered have already pulled out, although firms including defence giant BAE Systems have decided to press ahead.
A government spokesperson said: "The Secretary of State for International Trade has decided the time is not right for him to attend the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on 23 October.
“The UK remains very concerned about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“We encourage Turkish-Saudi collaboration and look forward to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia conducting a thorough, credible, transparent, and prompt investigation, as announced. Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account.”
The move was welcomed by Conservative MPs who have voiced their support for a boycott in recent days.
Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell told PoliticsHome: “The Government is absolutely right not to send a minister to Saudi at this point and I’m pleased to hear that the Government has decided that Liam should not go.
“Businesses are in a different position and will make their own decisions. But governments and international bodies should not be taking part in this sort of Saudi conference until we have a full explanation for what happened and knowledge of who carried out this horrific act and upon whose orders.”
Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat meanwhile added: "Liam Fox has taken the right decision. It is important that we stand up for the rule of law."
Saudi Arabia denies involvement in Mr Khasoggi's disappearance and has vowed to co-operate with Turkish authorities as they investigate.
The announcement that Dr Fox would not attend this month's business gathering came on the day the Washington Post published what may prove to be the columnist's final piece.
In it, he called for freedom of the press as a counter to "poverty, mismanagement and poor education" in the Arab world.