May Heads to the Gulf to Forge New Ties for U.K. After Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May will visit Bahrain this week to meet Gulf leaders to discuss security cooperation and boost trade with the U.K. as she seeks to build new ties after Brexit.

May will attend a dinner with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman on Tuesday, and hold bilateral meetings with each leader. She’ll also discuss the situation in Yemen and Syria, as well as relations with Iran, her office said in an e-mailed statement.

Theresa May

Photographer: AFP/AFP via Getty Images

“There is so much we can do together -- whether it is helping one another to prevent terrorist attacks, Gulf investment regenerating cities across the U.K. or British businesses helping Gulf countries to achieve their long-term vision of reform,” May said in the statement. “I hope my visit will herald the start of a new chapter in relations between the United Kingdom and the Gulf -- a true strategic partnership that enables us to together seize the opportunities ahead and ensure the security and prosperity of our people.”

May is seeking to boost Britain’s international profile and foster new trade links amid criticism the government is ill-prepared for negotiations to exit the European Union. The two-day visit will mark the first time a British prime minister and a woman attends a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Bahrain. It will be followed by several visits by cabinet ministers to the region in the coming months.

The prime minister sought to deflect criticism of her visit in light of the region’s human-rights record, saying Britain needs to work with these countries to encourage reform.

“No doubt there will be some people in the U.K. who say we shouldn’t seek stronger trade and security ties with these countries because of their record on human rights,” she said. “But we don’t uphold our values and human rights by turning our back on this issue. We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will attend the Manama Dialogue at the end of the week, Chancellor Philip Hammond will visit the region in the new year and Home Secretary Amber Rudd will travel to Saudi Arabia in March. Britain will also host the first annual summit between the U.K. and the Gulf Cooperation Council next year.

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