x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UK travel advice attacked

A British parliamentarian has criticised his country's advice on travelling to the UAE for putting too much emphasis on the risks from terrorism.

A student explains school projects to two visiting British MPs, Robert Goodwill, second from left, and Colin Breed, far right, at Al Khansa School in Dubai.
A student explains school projects to two visiting British MPs, Robert Goodwill, second from left, and Colin Breed, far right, at Al Khansa School in Dubai.

ABU DHABI // A British parliamentarian has criticised his country's advice on travelling to the UAE for putting too much emphasis on the risks from terrorism. He said it could stifle links between the two nations. Colin Breed, a Member of Parliament and co-chairman of the Council for the Advancement of Arab and British Understanding, said on a visit to Abu Dhabi that toning down the travel advice could encourage more UK citizens to visit the UAE.

"We have to be proportionate with these things," he said. "I go to Iraq quite a bit, where I think there might be some element of need for a warning. Here I think it's somewhat disproportionate." While it does not go as far as advising against travelling to the UAE, the travel advice section of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website does warn of "a high threat from terrorism". "We believe terrorists may be planning to carry out attacks in the UAE," the website states.

"Attacks could be indiscriminate and could happen at any time, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. You should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places." The "high" terrorist threat noted in the UAE, in place since June last year, is the most severe of four risk levels; the others are, in ascending order, "low", "underlying" and "general". Some other Gulf states, such as Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, are listed as having a "general" threat.

Mr Breed, a member of the opposition Liberal Democrat party, said the travel advice meant that insurance premiums for visitors could be "inflated considerably" and could deter organisations from promoting exchanges between Britain and the UAE. "Potentially it will put off worthwhile opportunities," he said. "The more people that come and visit these places, the better the understanding. "It's all very well politicians and businessmen coming, but we want tourists to come and we want them to engage with societies and communities."

The MP is visiting Abu Dhabi and Dubai to learn about a partnership scheme involving British and UAE schools called "Connecting Classrooms" organised by the British Council. "If we're going to encourage exchanges between teachers and students, it's not exactly helpful to have such a strong warning on the FCO website," Mr Breed added. Sue Elliott, second secretary for political and public diplomacy at the British embassy in Abu Dhabi, said officials would be happy to discuss Mr Breed's concerns with him.

"The travel warning is kept under regular review and is updated to reflect the information available at the time," she said. dbardsley@thenational.ae