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UK minister reaffirms Gulf ties amid PM resignation turmoil

Amanda Milling MP, meets UAE minister of state Sheikh Shakbout Amanda Milling/Twitter
Amanda Milling MP, meets UAE minister of state Sheikh Shakbout

July 7 will be remembered as the day British prime minister Boris Johnson resigned his post following a cabinet revolt and the departure of dozens of ministers.

But on the same day, Amanda Milling MP, the UK government’s minister for Asia and the Middle East, completed a largely unreported trip to the Gulf region, visiting Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The visit came as ties between the UK and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) are strengthening but also at a time when questions are being asked about the impact of Johnson’s downfall on the relationship. 

Last month the UK announced that GCC countries will be exempt from visa requirements, joining the electronic travel authorisation scheme, and they also launched free trade agreement discussions.

In each of the three Gulf countries, Milling met with officials to reaffirm the UK’s “close” relationship.

“Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE are close friends of the UK,” she said.

“We are making it easier for UK companies to trade with companies in the Gulf through a free trade agreement and for citizens of the Gulf to travel to the UK through our electronic visa authorisation scheme.”

She added that in the UAE, discussions were held about how the two countries can drive forward the Partnership for the Future agreement which was signed by Johnson and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in September 2021.

The partnership consists of two central pillars: the creation of sustainable prosperity and addressing global issues.

The leaders agreed to create new trade, investment and innovation dynamics, and to strengthen collaboration in areas including life sciences, energy innovation, regional issues, illicit finance, education, security, development, culture, climate, and health and food security.

At the time, Johnson said: “The UAE and the UK share a long and rich history, but with today’s agreement we are looking to the future.

“Ambitious partnerships like this are central to the government’s strategy to be a leading global force in science and technology, driving major investments to level up across the UK and create high-value jobs.”

And last week, Lord Udny-Lister, co-chair of the UAE-UK Business Council and a former strategic advisor to Johnson, told AGBI that the trade talks will not be affected by a change of political leadership in the UK

During her one-day visit to Bahrain, Milling met Bahrain’s minister of foreign affairs, Dr Abdullatif Al Zayani, and also held talks with the minister of justice and minister of finance and national economy, senior business figures, and visited the UK Naval Support Facility.

In Qatar, she met with Nasser Al Khater, CEO Qatar 2022 ahead of the World Cup to discuss what England and Wales fans can expect during the tournament.

Milling said: “In Bahrain, I reiterated that the UK is a reliable partner and we’ll continue to work closely together on many areas, including regional security, human rights and trade and investment.

“In Qatar I had the opportunity to discuss on-going preparations for the World Cup, and our support for a safe and enjoyable experience for British fans.

“In the UAE, my counterparts and I discussed the full range of shared priorities outlined in the Partnership for the Future, from boosting bilateral trade to regional stability and development.”

Last month, UK trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan launched free trade negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Equivalent to the UK’s seventh largest export market, the GCC bloc’s demand for international products and services is expected to grow to £800 billion ($976 billion) by 2035, a 35 percent increase – opening huge new opportunities for UK businesses.

The talks are expected to culminate in a trade deal worth £1.6 billion more a year to the UK economy, an increase of 16 percent, government analysis shows.

Around 10,700 small and medium-sized businesses from every UK nation and region exported goods to the GCC in 2020, with SMEs accounting for more than 85 percent of total UK goods exporters to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.