Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was invited to a UK visit.
The Saudi Arabian embassy informed me that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been extended an invitation to visit the UK. Downing Street, however, mentioned that the prime minister’s engagements would be confirmed in the usual manner and that no specific schedule had been set yet. A spokesperson stated that the prime minister anticipates meeting the crown prince “at the earliest opportunity.” If realised, this visit would mark the prince’s first to the UK since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The invitation was initially reported by the Financial Times and the Times newspapers.
The murder of Khashoggi, a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s government, was widely condemned in the West. UK ministers termed it a display of “appalling brutality” and subsequently imposed sanctions on 20 Saudi nationals implicated in the killing. Despite his denial of involvement, US intelligence agencies concluded that the prince must have sanctioned the murder.
Downing Street mentioned that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had recently conversed with the crown prince. Their discussion revolved around enhancing trade and investment relations as well as bolstering defence and security cooperation. Plans for the prince’s visit have been underway for over a month, though it remains uncertain whether he has formally accepted the invitation. The proposed dates are within the first half of October.
While some criticise the invitation, arguing that it enables the crown prince to act with impunity, others emphasise the importance of maintaining a dialogue with Saudi Arabia to influence human rights. UK ministers have expressed interest in forging closer ties with the kingdom, including exploring trade deals and collaboration in various sectors. Despite controversies surrounding Saudi sports investments and its human rights record, the UK government views working with them as more effective than lecturing from the outside.
The crown prince previously visited the UK in March 2018 during Prime Minister Theresa May’s tenure. Although he implemented some reforms, such as ending the ban on women driving, his international image was marred by Khashoggi’s murder.