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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

As UAE marks National Day, British Parliament group eyes closer ties and more trade deals

A 'global-facing Britain' would place the Gulf at the centre of its foreign policy

Britain’s ties to the Gulf stretch back over 200 years and its withdrawal from the European Union presents an opportunity to restore historic ties.

David Jones, a Conservative MP and one of the country’s leading architects of Brexit, told The National that a “global-facing Britain” would place the Gulf at the centre of its foreign policy.

The recently installed head of the British Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for the United Arab Emirates was speaking to mark national day at his offices by the river Thames.

“The context of Brexit gives this country and the Gulf states the opportunity for much closer political and economic ties,” he said. “Our relationship stretches back a long way, in the case of Bahrain we are marking the bicentenary of links this year. We clearly have strong trading links but we can bring the bilateral relationships back to where we would like them to be.”

Exiting the European Union in spring 2019, creates an opportunity for British officials to forge a trade deal with the region. Prior to the Qatar crisis, British ministers had hoped to set the platform for just such a GCC-wide deal as early as this year, though world trade rules means that London cannot formally negotiate any agreements until it leaves the bloc.

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“We have a great deal of visibility and a good presence in the region,” said Mr Jones, who served as a minister in the Brexit department in Whitehall until June’s general election. “There is going to be a more global Britain and our long historical links are going to very useful in pursuing new trading arrangements.

“I’ve very keen to widen contacts through the parliamentary group. I hope to lead a delegation to Abu Dhabi and Dubai early in the New Year. We are getting very good feedback on the meetings that can be set up when we get there.”

A committed advocate of free trade, Mr Jones represents a rural Welsh constituency. Its lamb products are primarily exported to France but with the right trading protocols the lucrative markets of the region could be opened to local producers. The biggest industry in the north Wales region is the giant Airbus wing-making facility. That high-tech operation has long relied on its sales to the airlines of the Gulf to support local jobs and economic opportunity.

The prolonged Qatar crisis came about for “very good reasons” as the Quartet nations sought significant change in its policies. “I think the Quartet of nations is content in the stance they have taken and will hold their line until there is a change,” he said.

Foreign allies and the diplomats of London’s Foreign Office needed to deepen their engagement with the nations in the region to facilitate that shift.

While Britain’s position faces radical changes these are almost matched in scale by the Vision 2030 plans launched in Saudi Arabia by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Mr Jones believes the transformation of the

Saudi economy is the perfect platform for deeper British ties throughout the Gulf states. “We do have to get behind what Mohammad bin Salman is doing and this extraordinary change will transform not just Saudi Arabia but the whole area. I was fortunate to meet him last year and I’ve been pleased to see he has doing many of the things he talked about then.

“The new ports on each side of the country alone present many opportunities to bring our transport expertise to assist the programme.”

A loyal member of the ruling party’s backbench, Mr Jones nonetheless counsels that the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal cannot be portrayed as a vehicle for moderating Iran. “I’ve always had a lot of concerns about the nuclear deal,” he said.

“I didn’t feel that Iran nuclear ambitions were curbed by it – what is a 10 year horizon in a nation that looks at history in terms of thousands of years? Iran is continuing with its foreign adventurism and its deeply concerning human rights abuse. The Western stance is changing especially with the election of President Trump.”

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