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Saudi Arabia

UK/Saudi cooperation spans a range of activities: education, healthcare, culture, defence and counter-terrorism. The UK’s relationship with the Saudis has been particularly controversial in view of the substantial links the two countries and Saudi Arabia’s poor protection of human rights. A project for the commercial arm of the National Offender Management Service to help administer Saudi prisons was controversial.

But it is the arms trade which most troubles human rights campaigners. The government says that it has faith in the ‘robust’ arms exports licensing regime, saying that it has no evidence that any goods supplied by the UK have been used for the violation of human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Concern has been raised about the use by Saudi Arabia of UK-supplied military hardware in the Yemen conflict. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia lead a coalition of nine Arab states in imposing a naval blockade on Yemen and bombing Houthi positions. The air operation has caused a lot of destruction and killed many civilians but has not decisively reversed gains made by the Houthis. In January 2016 the UN said that nearly 2,800 civilians had been killed. Some say that the Saudi forces’ failure to avoid Yemeni civilian casualties should be investigated for compliance with international humanitarian law. UK trainers have been associated with the Saudi operations. On 28 January, in answer to an Urgent Question, the government re-iterated its confidence in the licensing system in relation to Yemen: “The Government are satisfied that extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK’s export licensing criteria.”

The UK Government also says that intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States has helped prevent terrorist attacks going ahead, such as when a bomb concealed in a printer was discovered on a plane at East Midlands Airport.


The UK has a long relationship with Bahrain and has recently cooperated on a new naval base there, the first UK naval base east of Suez since 1971. The base will support four minesweepers and visiting frigates. Questions have been raised about the UK government licensing exports of military equipment to the country, in the light of the political unrest.

British ministers say that they regularly raise human rights and democracy issues with their Bahraini counterparts, and that it supports the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry into unrest in 2011. Human rights campaigners say that the recommendations are being quietly ignored.


Tobias Ellwood, Middle East minister, travelled to Kuwait in November 2015 for a meeting of the Joint UK-Kuwait Steering Group. In March, a relaxation of visa requirements for Kuwaiti citizens was announced, allowing travel on the electronic visa waiver system. In April 2016, Kuwait and the UK government signed a contract for 28 Typhoon aircraft.

Kuwait has one of the liveliest and most influential parliaments in the region, with the power to cross examine ministers and significant influence over legislation. Questions have been raised, however, about the protection of certain individuals, particularly the stateless Bidoon people.


The UK has friendly relations with the Sultanate of Oman. About 195 UK service personnel are based in Oman, some of whom are on loan to the Omani armed forces for training purposes. Mr Ellwood travelled to Oman for the eighth meeting of the UK-Oman Joint Working Group, a twice yearly bilateral forum.

Omanis, along with Qataris and citizens of the UAE were granted the right to travel to the UK on the electronic Visa Waiver system on 1 January 2014.


The UAE ended in 2013 negotiations with BAE Systems over a possible purchase of the Typhoon aircraft.

Along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE is a member of the coalition taking military action in Syria (although not in Iraq, where the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf were not invited to take action by the Iraqi government). The contribution of both Gulf States countries is reported to be small, however, with more commitment being shown to the Yemen campaign.

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