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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 April 2019

Who is the veteran British MP courting Qatari investment for his seaside town?

Sir David Amess celebrates high level business day-trip to Southend by Doha delegation after ‘wedding’ offer

Sir David Amess, fourth from left, and Qatar's ambassador to London, Yousef Ali Al Khater, sixth from right. Courtesy: Sir David Amess MP via Twitter
Sir David Amess, fourth from left, and Qatar's ambassador to London, Yousef Ali Al Khater, sixth from right. Courtesy: Sir David Amess MP via Twitter

Qatar has rewarded a close British ally, the MP Sir David Amess, with a big name business delegation visit to his constituency, offering the prospect of inward investment for its development.

Mr Amess, who represents the relatively down-at-heel Southend West, has visited Qatar twice as an MP in 2010 and 2018 to talk with officials and discuss regional issues. Both trips, as part of a parliamentary delegation, were paid for by Doha’s foreign ministry, the first costing roughly £5,000 (Dh23,983). On the second, estimated to have cost some £4,600, he recorded the “honour” of meeting with the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Qatar’s support for extremists groups — it both acts as host for a number of terror organisations and provides a base for leading ideologues promoting controversial views, including Yusuf Al Qaradawi — forced some Arab states to announce a boycott in 2017.

A business delegation, led by Doha’s ambassador to the UK, included representatives from Qatar Airways and a number of Qatari banks. The embassy said discussions were focused on “investment and partnership opportunities. Qatar is committed to supporting the UK as it looks to forge a new role for itself as Global Britain”.

After his last trip to Doha, Mr Amess organised a parliament debate on the country and spoke in such glowing terms about embassy staff that he suggested a member of his own family was ready to offer marriage.

It was not disclosed if the state that owns the famous London retailer Harrods was willing to re-open the once prominent Southend landmark Havens department store which went largely online only last year. In photographs the MP is seen showing the delegates the town’s Victorian pier and the council offices. The local leader said Mr Amess had been instrumental in arranging the visit.

“I think there have been conversations with one of our MPs and he’d been saying how well we were doing and so they were interested to come and have a look for themselves,” said Southend-on-Sea’s council leader John Lamb, referring to Mr Amess.

“I think they’ve shown that yes, Southend really is on the up and that there’s opportunities for them,”

Mr Amess’s Westminster office said the day was mainly focused on networking with local businesses. The local authority also gave a presentation on their future plans and the delegation were given a tour of the pier and museum.

Mr Lamb described Southend as an “up and coming town” that wanted to become a city. He welcomed delegations that sought to invest in the area but said there had been no pledges as yet. Qatar promised to invest £5 billion in the British economy after the 2016 Brexit referendum but so far the promised flood has led to a trickle of deals at best. “We couldn’t really say at the moment, ‘yes there’s something on the go.’ But it is very much in its infancy and hopefully it will flower and become a real good opportunity and investment for them,” Mr Lamb conceded.

An MP since 1983, Mr Amess has never been one to hide his admiration or fondness for the Gulf state. In May 2018 he introduced a motion to discuss UK relations with Qatar, months after visiting, where he lay out the importance of a close partnership.

In the speech to parliament, Mr Amess demonstrated his closeness to Qatar’s officials with some personal passion.

He praised the organisers of the trip and, in particular, a “very impressive gentleman; Ibrahim Pasha, who was just wonderful in the way he organised the trip, and who may or may not be a possible future son-in-law”.

Mr Amess has four daughters and a son but it is unclear if the comments were made in jest. Mr Pasha appears to still work at the embassy but calls to him went answered.

He was described in parliament as a British national of Turkish-Cypriot origin who liaised with British parliamentarians on behalf of the Qatari embassy.

Speaking in parliament last year Mr Amess lauded Qatar and UK’s “historic” links and said it was “imperative” these stayed strong through Brexit and the boycott by the country’s Arab neighbours.

He did, however, caution that the British government “would obviously have some concerns” about the extreme conditions that migration worker building football stadiums for the 2022 World Cup suffered from but said these were improving, when he spoke in 2018.

Southend, in the county of Essex is a far cry from the London landmarks and Qatari hangouts such as The Shard, Canary Wharf and Chelsea Barracks. “There are many exciting opportunities for investment and development in Southend as we leave the EU, and I hope that this visit will go someway to strengthening UK-Qatar co-operation,” said Mr Amess in a statement.

Updated: April 2, 2019 06:14 PM

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