The UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Our inquiry

1.  The UK's relationship with the six states that border the Gulf[1] stretches back over two centuries of alliances in the fields of defence, trade, and regional security. The Government has announced that it is strongly committed to strengthening the UK's bilateral relations with all its partners in the Gulf, and to expanding cooperation "across the board, in culture, education, defence and security, trade and investment, and foreign policy".[2] The Foreign Secretary has declared improving UK relations with the Gulf to be a personal goal,[3] and the Government included ambitions to upgrade UK-Gulf relations in its 2011-15 Business Plan. In 2010, the Government therefore launched its 'Gulf Initiative', a cross-departmental effort to improve its relations with the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)).

2.  We considered this a significant foreign policy initiative in a region of vital importance to the UK. Although the FCO has emphasised that the Gulf Initiative aims to improve the UK's relations with all Gulf States, we chose to focus our inquiry on two in particular, which was in line with previous FAC bilateral inquiries into important partners, such as Brazil and Turkey. First, we chose to look at the UK's relations with Saudi Arabia, as the largest and most influential Gulf state, as well as one with which the UK shares some priorities in terms of defence and security, counter-terrorism, and trade. Second, we chose to examine the UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia's island neighbour Bahrain, which is connected to the Saudi mainland by a causeway. The UK-Bahrain relationship is one of the UK's oldest and closest bilateral relationships in the Gulf. Bahrain has experienced significant turbulence and challenge since the events of 2011, so we wanted to examine how this might have affected the UK-Bahrain relationship, as well as how the UK has supported Bahrain during this difficult period.

3.  The Foreign Affairs Committee last considered the UK's relationship with a Gulf State in 2006, when our predecessor committee focused on the UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as part of its overarching inquiry into Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism.

4.  The Committee invited written submissions on the UK's relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, in the broader context of the UK and the Gulf States, with a particular focus on the following points:

  • the UK's foreign policy priorities in its relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and how effectively the Government balances the UK's interests in defence, commerce, energy security, counter-terrorism, and human rights;
  • the extent to which the FCO's Gulf Initiative has met its objective of improving relations with the Gulf States more generally and establishing the UK as a "key strategic partner" in the region as a whole;
  • Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as foreign policy partners for the UK, particularly with regard to Iran and Syria and as members of international and regional organisations;
  • the implications of the Arab Spring for UK foreign policy in its relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain;
  • how the UK can encourage democratic and liberalising reforms in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, including its power to effect improvements;
  • the long-term trends and scenarios in the region for which the FCO should prepare, and the extent to which it is doing so;
  • the extent to which the FCO has the resources, personnel and capacities required for effective policy in the region.

5.   We received a total of 71 written submissions from individuals, former diplomats, non-governmental organisations, academics, writers, and the Government. Some of these submissions contained allegations against individuals and organisations as well as personal information, such as individuals' medical conditions and details of alleged maltreatment and torture. We needed to consider carefully the consequences of publishing such information, and we are grateful to those who exercised patience while we did so. We have now published 57 submissions as evidence: in some cases authors agreed to remove personal information; in others, the original submission has been redacted on agreement with the author in order to protect individuals' safety and privacy. Those that were not published included duplicates, submissions that were later withdrawn, submissions that had already been published elsewhere and submissions which were not fully relevant to the inquiry but which we nonetheless treated as background papers.

6.  We took oral evidence on six occasions, between January 2013 and July 2013. Witnesses included academics, researchers, former diplomats, business representatives, human rights and reform experts and Government Ministers and officials from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A full list of witnesses can be found on page 112 of this report. In March 2013, we visited Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Manama in Bahrain. We provide a list of our meetings during these visits as Annex A. We also held a number of private informal meetings in London relevant to our inquiry; a full list of these meetings can be found at Annex B. We would like to thank all those who provided written and oral evidence, spoke to us in connection with our inquiry or otherwise assisted us, and especially the UK's Ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and their teams for facilitating our visits. We also record our thanks to Sir William Patey, former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (2007-2010) for his service as Special Adviser to the Committee for this inquiry.[4]

1   Iran refers to the region as the Persian Gulf, while some Gulf States refer to it as the Arabian Gulf. The FCO calls it the Gulf, as will this report. Back

2   'The UK and the Gulf States', FCO website (archive), accessed August 2012. Back

3   Ibid. Back

4   Sir William was appointed on 4 December 2012. He declared the following interests: Adviser to Control Risks, Non Executive Director HSBC Bank Middle East, and Chairman Swindon Town FC. On 8 January 2013 he made a further declaration of his membership of the Locarno Group, an advisory body to the FCO. These declarations appear in the formal minutes of Committee meetings, published at commons-committees/foreign-affairs/MOPs12-13final.pdf.  Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 22 November 2013