Theresa May says UK will not 'turn its back' on human rights concerns during Gulf visit

Posted On: 
5th December 2016

Theresa May has acknowledged human rights concerns about Gulf nations as she prepares to fly out to Bahrain for a summit with six governments where she will push for closer trading ties. 

Theresa May will be the first British Prime Minister to address the Gulf Co-operation Council
Credit: 
PA Images

Mrs May will be the first British leader and first woman to attend the Gulf Co-operation Council this week.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, the Prime Minister said she wanted the trip to mark the “start of a new chapter in relations” between the UK and Gulf.

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As well as addressing the main session of the Council, Mrs May will hold bilateral talks with the leaders of the six Gulf nations – Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Oman – to discuss security, trade, relations with Iran, and the wars in Syria and Yemen.

The Government has identified £30bn of “high-value opportunities for British businesses” in the region over the next five years.

She said the relationships with such nations would grow more important as the UK left the European Union.  

“We must look at the challenges that we, and future generations, will face and build stronger partnerships with countries that will be vital to both our security and our prosperity,” she said.

“There is so much we can do together - whether it is helping one another to prevent terrorist attacks, Gulf investment regenerating cities across the UK or British businesses helping Gulf countries to achieve their long term vision of reform.”

Campaigners have highlighted the poor human rights records of many of the countries represented at the Council, but Mrs May insisted it was important to engage with them.

The Prime Minister said: “No doubt there will be some people in the UK who say we shouldn’t seek stronger trade and security ties with these countries because of their record on human rights.

“But we don’t uphold our values and human rights by turning our back on this issue.

“We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform. That is how Britain can be a force for good in the world as well as helping to keep our people safe and create new opportunities for business.”

Human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Reprieve and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy have written to Mrs May to highlight Bahrain’s “orchestrated attack on the rights to free expression, assembly and association”.