Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has for months been delaying his plans to visit London and he recently hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin which did not sit well with UK officials.
In August, Mohammed bin Salman was invited by Britain for an official visit later this year. For months, UK and Saudi were in discussions about the visit with UK officials saying they had been working towards 3 December as a possible arrival date, but the plan was delayed last week, a report by Financial Times quoted UK officials as saying.
Putin met Mohammed bin Salman in Riyad on 6 December. The UAE trip was Russian president’s first since launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
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Doubt about UK-Saudi relationship
The report quoted senior Conservative MPs saying the proximity of the postponement of crown prince’s London trip and Putin’s visit to Riyad raised questions about the strength of the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
‘Prince Mohammed’s visit was a snub’
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the recent postponement of Prince Mohammed’s visit was a “snub”.
The FT report quoted Smith saying it was “astonishing” that Mohammed bin Salman would welcome Putin after the Russian President ordered the invasion of Ukraine and said there was a risk of Britain and Saudi Arabia’s other western allies being “played for fools”.
Meanwhile, a senior Tory MP, Robert Courts, warned the postponement of Saudi crown prince this month’s was “a concern because it suggests a UK diplomatic failure in the face of a co-ordinated diplomatic offensive by Putin”.
“The UK should urgently review the resources and strategy behind its foreign and defence policy to prevent the slide of states towards our strategic competitors,” Courts added.
Saudi officials, meanwhile, citied scheduling issues and dismissed any connection between the delay of the crown prince’s London trip and his hosting Putin in Riyad.
The FT report quoted Prince Khalid bin Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to London, saying “anyone familiar with the UK-Saudi relationship will know that the suggestion of a snub is nonsense”.
“The relationship is as strong as it has ever been and will remain so. Those wishing to interpret things differently are sorely mistaken,” Prince Khalid bin Bandar said.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s invite to Prince Mohammed this year signalled the UK’s desire to attract Saudi investment and deepen relations five years after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.