The United Kingdom has invited Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) for an official visit to the country, indicating that Western countries are easing off on the kingdom following the gruesome murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The invitation, first reported by British daily business newspaper the Financial Times, is likely to see Saudi Arabia’s 37-year-old de facto ruler visit London in late autumn.
The British prime minister’s office has, however, declined to confirm whether it sent out a formal invitation to the Saudi crown prince.
“We wouldn’t get into invites for foreign leaders,” Premier Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said, adding that such visits would be “set out in the normal way.”
Bin Salman’s visit would be his first to Britain since 2018, shortly before Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the kingdom and its crown prince, was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
The CIA concluded in 2018 that MbS had ordered the killing of Khashoggi, contradicting Saudi Arabia’s insistence that the crown prince had had no prior knowledge of the plot.
The prince has denied ordering Khashoggi’s killing but acknowledged later that it took place “under my watch.” Saudi officials later blamed “rogue agents” for the journalist’s murder.
The upcoming trip has raised concerns that London is moving to further ignore Khashoggi’s killing and other human rights violations, especially at a time when other Western nations have been diplomatically embracing bin Salman.
The latest example of such receptions is his almost week-long stay in Paris last month, during which he met with French President Emmanuel Macron and attended a climate finance summit.
Sunak’s spokesperson went on to assert that the prime minister’s position on the killing of Khashoggi was that it was “a terrible crime” and that Saudi Arabia “must ensure such an atrocity can never happen again.”
The invitation comes as the UK is currently negotiating a free trade deal with the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – and Riyadh is courting London to vote in November for its hosting of Expo 2030, which is aligned with the kingdom’s so-called Vision 2030.
Polly Truscott, foreign policy adviser for Britain-based human rights group Amnesty International, condemned the UK’s invitation of the Saudi crown prince as “rolling out the red carpet” for him and enabling him to “use this visit to rehabilitate himself on the world stage.”
She stated that “Mohammed bin Salman and his government must be properly held to account for abuses by Saudi officials, including Khashoggi’s murder, the widespread use of torture in Saudi jails and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Yemen.”
Truscott also called on Sunak to adopt a confrontational stance during the visit, saying that he “must be prepared to confront the crown prince over the outrageous jailing of Salma al-Shehab, the Leeds PhD student who is serving a 27-year jail sentence after an unfair trial for her tweets supporting women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.”