Saudi Arabia's MbS 'to make first UK visit in five years'

Saudi Arabia's MbS 'to make first UK visit in five years'
Saudi Arabia's controversial de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will visit the UK this autumn for the first time since March 2018, according to reports.
3 min read
17 August, 2023
Saudi Arabia's crown prince is expected to make his first visit to the UK in five years [Getty]

Saudi Arabia's de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) will visit the UK this autumn for the first time in five years, according to reports.

MbS has been largely boycotted by Western states since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, which US and Turkish intelligence linked to the prince. The crown prince has denied any role in the journalist's killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

While Downing Street has not confirmed a date for the visit, government sources said the visit is expected take place. MbS's last visit to the UK was in March 2018, less than seven months before the murder of Khashoggi.

"The invitation has been extended to the Saudis and discussions about the nature of the trip are ongoing," a source told The Times.

"There is desire here to make it happen by the end of the year but ultimately the timing is up to the Saudis."

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Following anger in Europe and the US over the Khashoggi murder, MbS has largely come in from the cold with Western countries eager to broker deals with Saudi Arabia which has a $1 trillion investment plan - known as Vision 2030 - for the kingdom.

A visit by MbS to the UK - including a proposed meeting with King Charles - would likely cement the crown prince's return to the international fold, following years of fraught relations.

MbS's planned visit to the UK will likely include talks on defence deals and investment opportunities, The Times said.

Following Brexit, the UK has been keen to secure a trade deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Saudi Arabia is a major player.

Riyadh has already made several high-profile investments in the UK, most notably with the buy-out of Premier League club Newcastle United by the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

UK media have largely welcomed the invitation, seeing it as a good opportunity for British firms trapped in post-Brexit doldrums and also an opportunity to encourage Riyadh to increase oil production and stabilise energy prices in Europe.

"With a burgeoning population of more than 35 million, Saudi Arabia is the world's second biggest oil producer, with 17 per cent of all proven reserves, is enormously rich, dominates the politics of the Middle East and is the guardian of Islam's two holiest cities, hosting some 2.5 million pilgrims to Mecca every year," wroteĀ The Times in an editorial piece.

"AĀ proposed autumn visit to London by MBS, as the king's son is known, is therefore of huge importance: overdue, intended to strengthen close defence links, likely to boost British exports to this vast market and underlining Britain's longĀ involvement in the Middle East."Ā 

While MbS has been criticised for detaining free speech activists and other crackdowns, many have also welcomed the social reforms made in the country and the crown prince's ambitious economic plan for the kingdom's future.

Despite initial unease in the West over MbS's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia is now playing a leading role in peace talks with Ukraine.