UK vows to air 'deep concerns' over Yemen during Saudi crown prince's state visit

UK vows to air 'deep concerns' over Yemen during Saudi crown prince's state visit
British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will seek to discuss Yemen's humanitarian crisis with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to London this week.
3 min read
07 March, 2018
Protests against the Saudi prince's visit have been gathering momentum in London [Getty]

The UK's Prime Minister Theresa May will "raise deep concerns at the humanitarian situation" in war-torn Yemen with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to the UK beginning on Wednesday, her spokesperson has said.

"[May] will acknowledge the steps taken recently by Saudi Arabia to address the crisis but stress the importance of full and unfettered humanitarian and commercial access, including through the ports," the prime minister's spokesman said on Tuesday.

"She will also reiterate how seriously we take allegations of violation against international humanitarian law and emphasise the need to ensure these are investigated swiftly and thoroughly."

The spokesman added the prime minister would "make clear that we urgently need to see progress on the political track... to end the conflict and humanitarian suffering in Yemen."

Britain is rolling out the red carpet for the crown prince's controversial three-day visit, which Downing Street hopes "will usher in a new era in bilateral relations" but is also expected to draw protests - specifically against what many consider Saudi war atrocities committed in Yemen.

Read more: Timeline: How a bullish Saudi prince created regional chaos

Salman will have lunch with the Queen on Wednesday at Buckingham Palace, while Prince Charles will host him at a dinner along with Prince William and other guests.

The crown prince will jointly host with May the inaugural UK-Saudi strategic partnership council in No. 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's office and residence.

The summit, attended by ministers from both countries, will focus on support for reforms in Saudi Arabia, trade relations, defence and security, as well as Iraq and Syria, according to Downing Street. 

The two countries are expected to sign trade deals worth as much as $100bn during the visit, according to Mubasher. The collossal trade deals on the table - especially at a point of Brexit uncertainty - have caused some to doubt whether human rights and the war in Yemen really are Mrs May's priorities during the visit.

"An important part of the visit will be exploring ways we can support Saudi to progress and intensify these reforms," May's spokesperson said, noting the enacted or proposed lifting of bans on women in sports, going to cinemas and being able to drive in the kingdom.

Read more: Theresa May must tell MbS to end male guardianship

Protest group Stop the War will hold a rally outside Downing Street at 5.00pm (1700 GMT) on Wednesday to denounce Saudi Arabia's "brutal and illegal bombing" in Yemen and London's support for the Middle Eastern regime. 

Meanwhile, NGO Save the Children will also protest the conflict by placing a life-size statue of a child near parliament "to draw attention to the violence that is being fuelled, in part, by British-made bombs".

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister defended his country's "just" war in Yemen on the eve of the crown prince's visit, which follows a trip to Egypt earlier in the week and comes ahead of a visit to the United States later in March.

"They criticise us for a war in Yemen that we did not want, that was imposed on us," Adel Al-Jubeir told BBC radio. 

"They criticise us for a war in Yemen that is a just war, that is supported by international law," he added.