London mayor Sadiq Khan boycotts G20 to avoid 'any implication' of support for Saudi government

London mayor Sadiq Khan boycotts G20 to avoid 'any implication' of support for Saudi government
3 min read
30 September, 2020
The New Arab learned that the mayor’s office will stray from previous years and rescind the presence of the Greater London Authority to observe the meetings at the Urban 20.
The mayor said that it will rescind London's presence from the G20. [Getty]

London mayor Sadiq Khan has said will boycott this year’s G20 summit, hosted virtually by Saudi Arabia, adding that for the first time officials representing London will not dial in to view any of its sessions.

The mayor’s office said that it will not send a Greater London Authority (GLA) official to observe the meetings at the Urban 20 (U20), a mayors’ summit taking place this week which informs the main G20 event, The New Arab has learned.

“It has never been the Mayor's intention to attend this U20 summit and his invite has previously been formally declined. No one is representing him at the summit or speaking on behalf of London,” a spokesperson for the Mayor of London said to The New Arab on Wednesday.

This communication contradicts a petition started by Freedom Forward - which garnered over 8,000 signatures to urge him not to attend - where they said that the mayor’s office was listed as a participant to the event.

“To avoid any implication that this observer status means support for the Saudi government, the GLA, exceptionally, will not dial in to view any of the U20 summit sessions this year,” the spokesperson for the Mayor added.

However, critics of the UK’s relationship with the Saudi Arabia - which is held together by a myriad of trade agreements which bolster Riyadh’s war in Yemen - say that the summit needs to be an occasion for officials to take a more vocal stance against the kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia’s appalling record when it comes to human rights abuses must not be ignored by any British politician. The actions of MBS and his regime, including the murder of Khashoggi, must be unequivocally condemned by the UK,” Layla Moran, the Spokesman for Foreign Affairs and International Development of the Liberal Democrats, told The New Arab.

“This G20 summit should be used to directly address the repression of rights and freedoms globally, including in Saudi Arabia. The regime cannot use their role as host to avoid this pressing topic and any UK attendee has a duty to speak up.”

Earlier this month, human rights groups also wrote to the mayors of major cities demanding them to boycott the summit, citing Saudi Arabia’s involvement in human rights abuses and its disregard for climate change.

“Human rights and civil society norms are under threat across the world. G20 delegations have an obligation to ensure that G20 meetings are not used by host governments to obscure or hide their own repressive and environmentally destructive practices,” the coalition, which included the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group and London-based ALQST, said.

They urged G20 member states to exert pressure on the kingdom over its intensifying crackdown on dissent, which has seen women activists, journalists and political dissidents jailed.

In response, the left-wing mayors of New York, Los Angeles, and Paris have also publicly withdrawn from attending the summit, which takes place at the same time as the anniversary of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

Khashoggi's 2018 killing, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, battered the reputation of the kingdom and of 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who controls all major levers of power in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia said on Monday it will hold the G20 summits virtually, as the pandemic has forced all of the group's meetings to be held by videoconference since March.

The kingdom had been attempting to repair its frayed global image ahead of its hosting of the summit, accelerating investment in sports and entertainment in a bid to rebrand its profile while boosting investment and employment.

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