Boris Johnson Urges Saudi Arabia to Emulate Liberal Britain

  • More reform needed if Gulf kingdom wants an economic ‘miracle’
  • U.K. foreign secretary testifying to parliamentary committee
Boris Johnson Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has delivered a lecture on liberal values to Saudi Arabia, telling the Gulf kingdom it must modernize and build a tolerant society if it wants an “economic miracle.”

Johnson said plans to return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam are potentially hugely important for the world, describing it as “a great thing” that women will be allowed to drive a car from next year. “Great,” he told lawmakers in London. “How much further is that going to go? It sounds pathetic to put it like that but we want to encourage Saudi Arabia down the path of reform and modernization.”

Johnson listed a set of values that he said make Britain an economic success - human rights, gender equality and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. “What I would say to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- who is a remarkable young man -- what I would say is, if you want to make an economic miracle in your country then look at those qualities that we have in this country.”

He added: “Look at the investment that comes, look at the genius that comes, look at the talent that wants to come to a country like that and look at the economic success that you will have. The argument I would make is not about what type of Islam they choose to follow but what type of society they choose to build.”

It’s not the first time Johnson has aired views on Saudi Arabian society. Almost a year ago, he provoked the ire of prime minister Theresa May by accusing the kingdom -- a major buyer of British defense equipment -- of abusing Islam for political advantage and “puppeteering and playing proxy wars” in the region. May’s office slapped him down within hours of his comments emerging, telling reporters the foreign secretary was not speaking for the government.

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