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Gulf dispute

In 2017 a dispute over foreign policy and the treatment of political Islam blew up between Qatar and a group of Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia. The Saudi group imposed a blockade on Qatar and the rivalry spilled over into conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

The UK, in common with other Western governments, has called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute:

We continue to urge all sides to take steps to de-escalate and engage with Kuwaiti mediation efforts to find a resolution to the ongoing dispute. Substantive progress can only happen when all countries involved are willing to discuss demands that are measured and realistic. We remain firmly committed to our strategic partnership with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and continue to make clear during engagements with Gulf partners that GCC unity matters to long-term regional security and stability.

After Joe Biden’s victory in the US elections, Saudi Arabia was reported to be stepping up its efforts to solve the Qatar crisis, as a “gift” to both outgoing and incoming presidents.

Arms sales and defence collaboration

The UK has sold 24 Typhoons and nine Hawks to Qatar. The Department for International Trade answered a PQ in June 2019 setting out the details of the export credits provided by the Government to support the sale.

The £4.2 billion export credit has proved controversial as it did not match the usual UK Export Finance criteria for granting credit because of the size of the credit and the long risk horizon.

RAF and BAE Systems

The RAF’s operational headquarters for operations in the Middle East is in Qatar at Al Udeid airbase, also the hub of America’s air operations in the region. It is home to the RAF’s No 83 Expeditionary Air Group, which provides command and control to the 4 Expeditionary Air Wings supporting UK military operations in the region.

In September 2018 a contract between BAE Systems and the Government of Qatar for the provision of 24 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, 9 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers and a six-year support service came into effect.

A joint UK/Qatari squadron has been set up to allow personnel from both air forces to train together. Based at RAF Coningsby, No.12 Squadron is a unique initiative between the UK and Qatar and will provide the Qatari air force with experience operating the Typhoon. Flights started in June 2020.

Football World Cup

Many people have been concerned about the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar because of the extreme temperatures, but also because of the stories of extreme exploitation of workers building the facilities.

The UK Government “welcomes” the steps Qatar has made towards improving the lot of workers on World Cup projects. Those steps include opening an office of the International Labour Organisation. In August 2020 Qatar passed laws to impose a minimum wage and to allow workers to change jobs without their employer’s permission, described as “a step in the right direction” by Amnesty International.


Qatar dominates the market for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). LNG made up 39% of the UK’s imported natural gas in 2019, up from 15 per cent in 2018. Nearly half comes from Qatar, the UK’s biggest LNG supplier.

Gas trade helped the total trade between the United Kingdom and Qatar reach £7.2 billion, an increase of 37% (£1.9 billion) from 2018.

Qatari investments in the UK

Qatari overseas investment has recovered after seeing repatriation of funds at the height of the Gulf crisis in 2017.

In 2017, the UK was reportedly Qatar’s biggest investment destination, with a stock of £35 billion-worth of investments in the UK and £5 billion more planned. Much of the investment is from the Qatari sovereign wealth fund.

Gulf Strategy Fund

The UK created the Gulf Integrated Activity Fund (IAF) in 2015. It is now the Gulf Strategy Fund.  It is designed to cover expenditure when department’s core budgets cannot provide funds for the government’s Gulf Strategy. The IAF funds activities in Qatar as well as the other Gulf Co-operation Council countries. The allocated budget for the IAF for the 2019/20 financial year was £20m.

In October 2020 the Gulf Fund and its transparency (or lack of it) was the subject of a debate in Westminster Hall. The minister answering for the Government undertook to produce a summary of the fund’s activities.

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