Mohammed bin Salman was officially welcomed to London last week with “all the trappings of a state visit”, says the Financial Times. The government’s message to the 32-year-old crown prince, known as MBS, was “unambiguous: this is a man to do business with”.
No wonder, say Margherita Stancati and Jason Douglas in The Wall Street Journal. Expanding economic links with nations post-Brexit is a “critical goal”. Around £65bn of trade and investment could materialise with the UK, says Andy Critchlow in The Daily Telegraph. There’s also the potential prize of Aramco, the world’s biggest oil firm, being floated on the London Stock Exchange.
But at what cost, asks The Guardian. Saudi is currently playing a leading role in a war in Yemen, fighting Houthi rebels aligned with its chief regional rival, Iran. More than 10,000 people have died, and eight million are said to be at risk of starvation.
Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly raised “deep concerns” about the war with MBS, yet for all the UK’s “boasts of providing humanitarian aid”, it is also supplying weapons that are “fuelling” the crisis. The end of MBS’s visit was marked by a £100m aid deal, and news of a provisional deal for BAE Systems to supply Saudi with 48 Typhoon fighter jets.
The likes of Boris Johnson love MBS because he “buys stuff” and is modernising Saudi, says Christopher de Bellaigue in The Spectator. But MBS needs the West, too. With the population and unemployment rising, the kingdom needs foreign investment to avoid burning its reserves on welfare spending. We should be wary, says the Financial Times. MBS shows no sign of wanting “to allow greater participation in political life”. This is a concern that the “kingdom’s allies… should be voicing. MBS, the strongman in the making, would be wise to listen.”