Why is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s UK visit so controversial?

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince will be greeted by the Queen, Prime Minister – and protesters

Mohammed bin Salman
Mohammed bin Salman is due to arrive in London on Wednesday
(Image credit: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

Hundreds of demonstrators from groups including Stop the War and the Campaign Against Arms Trade will gather outside Downing Street this evening to protest against the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi royal will have audience with both Theresa May and the Queen, as Britain rolls out the red carpet for one of its closest Middle Eastern allies.

The Government “is pulling out all the stops to charm the young reformer after he chose London for his first trip to a Western capital since taking power”, HuffPost’s Paul Waugh.

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However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has urged the Prime Minister to “use this visit to announce the UK will no longer supply arms to Saudi Arabia while the devastating Saudi-led bombing of Yemen continues”.

The PM’s spokesperson told reporters that May would raise “deep concerns” over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen - but “all pomp and ceremony suggests those may be a footnote”, says Waugh.

Prince Mohammed’s diplomatic offensive is aimed at courting investors and comes after “a tumultuous period that saw a major military shake-up and an anti-corruption purge” in his kingdom, says Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya.

Who will he meet with in London?

His full schedule has not been made public, but the prince is expected to join the Queen for dinner at Windsor Castle, before heading to No. 10 for a meeting with the PM.

The talks are aimed at strengthening defence, security and economic ties between the UK and Saudi Arabia, but “given how little we know about him and how important our relations with Saudi Arabia are held to be, it is fair to say that breaths are being held on both sides”, The Times reports.

Demonstrations are set to take place outside Downing Street, with campaigners calling on May to challenge Prince Mohammed on human rights abuses and to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, accuses May of “putting the interests of arms dealers above the rights of Yemeni people” who are being attacked by Saudi warplanes.

“The crown prince should never have been invited to Downing Street: he leads a regime with an appalling human rights record and has overseen the destruction of Yemen,” Smith told Sky News.

What exactly is on the agenda?

As a senior member of Britain’s most important trading partner in the Middle East, Prince Mohammed “arrives with a twin agenda: as head of a lucrative trade mission, and as a leader looking for validation after a chequered debut year in foreign affairs”, according to The Guardian.

The Saudi Committee for International Trade (CIT) says his main objectives will be drumming up business and cementing investment opportunities.

The prince “will look for investments in the UK, and, by return, present opportunities for UK-based investors to profit from Saudi’s economic growth”, writes CIT secretary general Omar Bahlaiwa in an article for City A.M.

May, meanwhile, says her priorities include tackling terrorism; the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen; and other regional issues such as Iraq and Syria.

The PM has defended her decision to host the crown prince by pointing to the social reforms under way in Saudi Arabia, such as the recent lifting of the ban on female drivers.

“Saudi Arabia is changing,” she said.

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