The UK Military Cooperation with Arab monarchies After Brexit

What is an authoritarian state like? Which authoritarian countries does the UK have relations with? Why does the UK want ties with authoritarian Arab monarchs?

It took four years for the United Kingdom to cease its membership in the European Union after the 2016 referendum. Following the withdrawal, Britain is seeking trade with Arab monarchies by ignoring their human rights abuses. What London wants and seeks is more influence among the Middle Eastern countries and more money and investments from these authoritarian states.

Authoritarianism, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, is “blind submission to authority”, which is in contrast to people’s freedom of thought and deeds. An authoritarian government is any political system that concentrates authority under the supervision of one leader or a few elites. In this system, people are not included in the body of the political structure. Authoritarian leaders often use power autocratically and do not abide by the existing laws. Usually, the citizens are unable to easily replace their leaders in free elections or choose their leaders among many competitors. While several Arab countries in the Middle East are autocratic or authoritarian, they have been partners of the United Kingdom for several decades. This partnership will continue after Britain’s withdrawal from the EU with military cooperation and arms trades.

The UK has been trying to find its feet in the world after the 2016 Brexit referendum. The Conservative Government is pursuing the idea of a global Britain in which London is at the center, and seeks to expand its existing ties with the Arab states, specifically Arab authoritarian states in the Middle East. The UK has struggled to be both a global power and preserve the attention of authoritarian partners in the region. Post-Brexit, the UK is interested in strengthening relations with wealthy Arab monarchies, because it is beneficial for Britain and also provides it with more possibilities to play a bigger role in the Middle East. Having left the EU, the UK government now seeks a greater role and more investment by the Arab monarchies. As such, is it trying to establish stronger ties with these authoritarian states.

The UK Seeks Money from Authoritarian States After Brexit

The UK ended its membership in the EU on 31 December 2020 and returned to its status as an independent trading country. In 2019, it tried to choose its trading partners from around the world and managed to sign 20 agreements, notably with the nations of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. Historically, the UK and [P]GCC countries have been major partners in the diplomatic, economic and defence fields. Over the past 200 years, numerous agreements have been signed between Britain and the rulers of these Arab countries, but the UK is seeking to increase its regional and global influence for national interests following Brexit. It is not just the UK government, but also British royals who have tried to keep close relations with the royal families of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries in the region for several decades.


Arab Monarchies Were Among Major Trade Targets After the Brexit Referendum

The United Arab Emirates has been one of the key regional partners for the UK and will continue to be a key target in the post Brexit era. In a previous call to Mohammad Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and the de facto ruler of Abu Dhabi, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said that the UK needs the UAE more than ever before. In fact, the UK government needs investments that benefit the British economy. In 2020, trade deals between the UK and the UAE reached 25 billion pounds, making it an important partner for Britain. Saudi Arabia has also been a very important partner for the UK. Just in their arms trade over the five years ending in 2020, Britain’s leading arms manufacturers sold more than 15 billion pounds worth of arms and services to the Saudi military.

The UK Gained Huge Amounts of Money from the UAE and Saudi Arabia

After the 2008 financial crisis, the UK was one of the most successful countries in Europe in attracting investments from these authoritarian Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They invested in different British infrastructure projects and its financial system. The biggest trade took place in the defence industry. After the Brexit referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May was the first British prime minister to attend a [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council conference, emphasising on free trade deals with these countries. Now, following the withdrawal from the EU and the pandemic surge in the UK, London is seeking a greater role by these monarchies in its economy with Saudi Arabia as the main player. During his tenure as foreign secretary, Boris Johnson had announced at the time that the UK aimed to increase the existing defence cooperation with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, saying that London wanted to establish a permanent naval base in Bahrain, another authoritarian monarchy. He also announced that British military presence at the Dubai Air Base would increase and there would be military training cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

After the Brexit Referendum, the UK Sought Economic and Strategic Influence in the Middle East

Leaving the EU has given the UK the opportunity to be independent and make deals with its own rules based on its own interests. Hence, great changes will be made in its import-export regimen and it will seek to improve its ties with specific countries in the Middle East. London will keep its “special relationship” with the arab monarchies in the region. The UK wants to keep its influence among these countries to maintain access to their markets and attract investments for its own financial sector. However, it does not seem concerned about the human rights abuses in the authoritarian countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia. An amnesty report has already stated the continued role of the UAE in the military coalition killing civilians in Yemen. The detention of activists and use of torture in this country, in addition to discrimination against women, were also reported. According to Saudi human rights records, the Saudi-led coalition continues to carry out military attacks on the people of Yemen which have killed great numbers of civilians to date. There is no freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia and a well-known Saudi journalist criticising the monarchy was brutally killed in Turkey inside the Saudi embassy. In addition, there are reports of suffering, abuse and exploitation among migrants working in Saudi Arabia; in some cases, they are not paid regularly or their passports are confiscated by their employers. The migrant workers are unable to lodge a complaint and have no legal support. Nevertheless, the UK government turns a blind eye to the reports and continues to keep its ties with these autocratic states in order to deepen its financial and strategic ties.

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