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UK Morocco trade envoy resigns amid Johnson leadership crisis

Andrew Murrison helped the UK government agree a trade and political continuity deal with Morocco Creative Commons
Andrew Murrison helped the UK government agree a trade and political continuity deal with Morocco

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, is set to resign today following a swathe of party resignations.

Among those to submit their resignation was Dr Andrew Murrison, trade envoy to Morocco, who submitted a strongly-worded letter yesterday saying that Johnson’s position had become “unrecoverable” over his handling of the row over disgraced deputy chief whip Chris Pincher. 

Along with Murrison’s departure, the resignations from the government and party exceeded 50 on Thursday, as Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis became the first cabinet member of the day to quit, quickly followed by other ministers.

Johnson received a heavy double blow this week when two of the UK’s most senior cabinet ministers – chancellor Rishi Sunak and health minister Sajid Javid – announced their resignations within minutes of each other, both stating that they questioned Johnson’s ability to run a government that adhered to standards.  

Iraq-born Nadhim Zahawi has been appointed the new chancellor.

Johnson’s reputation has been rocked by recent by-election defeats and nationwide anger over the Partygate scandals. 

Dr Murrison had backed Johnson’s leadership bid in both 2016 and 2019. 

He was appointed as the UK’s trade envoy to Morocco and Tunisia between 2016 and 2019 by former PM Theresa May and reappointed as trade envoy to Morocco in 2020 by Johnson who was elected prime minister in July 2019. 

Although not a high-profile figure in British politics, Murrison presided over the UK government’s signing of a trade and political continuity agreement with the Moroccan government in London in October 2019.

The agreement was aimed at ensuring British businesses and consumers benefit from continued access to the Moroccan market after Britain left the EU.

“It provides, among other trade benefits, tariff-free trade of industrial products together with liberalisation of trade in agricultural, agri-food and fisheries products,” said Murrison at the time of the signing. 

In addition to growing trade, the agreement also sought to deepen UK-Moroccan cooperation on educational and environmental matters by providing a framework for policy dialogue. 

Murrison also served as UK minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) from May 2019 until February 2020. In this role, he made a visit to Tehran in June 2019 where he held meetings with senior Iranian government representatives. 

Andrew Murrison's resignation letter
Andrew Murrison’s resignation letter

The meetings covered several subjects including the UK’s long-held concerns over Iran’s activities in the region, in which Murrison reiterated the UK’s assessment that Iran almost certainly bore responsibility for recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman. 

Murrison also reiterated the UK’s determination to maintain the nuclear deal which he said “is in our shared security interests.”

He also pressed again on behalf of the UK government for the urgent and unconditional release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, (she was subsequently released in March this year), and all British-Iranian dual nationals who are being arbitrarily detained.

In September 2019 Murrison made a visit to the Gulf where he held talks on bilateral issues on which the UK works closely with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman, including Saudi Vision 2030, security, defence and human rights.

Commenting on Johnson’s trip to Riyadh in March this year to ask the Gulf state to pump more oil, Murrison said: “At a time like this, I’m afraid we’re going to have to go to places that are uncomfortable for us and for our partners, because the greater evil is Vladimir Putin. 

“It is certainly the case that the UK has a deep and long-standing relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which does not mean to say we are a cheerleader for that country. But we operate in a pragmatic space and traditionally have avoided standoffs.”

US president Joe Biden will embark on a trip to the Middle East – the first during his presidency – next week which will run from July 13-16 and include a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Biden has previously been a vocal critic of the kingdom’s human rights record and pursued a policy of disengagement with the Gulf state. However, the global energy crisis has led him to change course. 

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