Boris Johnson has been accused of putting trade before torture after meeting with senior Bahraini officials in Downing Street to discuss a free trade agreement with the Gulf states.
Neither the Foreign Ministry nor Downing Street announced the meeting with the country’s prime minister, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, in advance, and one official cited security concerns.
The Downing Street statement after the meeting said the two sides had agreed to “further strengthen our economic, security and diplomatic cooperation.”
The UK is looking to reach a new trade deal with the Gulf countries, either bilaterally through individual states or through its collective body, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. , Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Last November, the UK government announced that it was beginning to work with the GCC on a joint investment and trade review that is expected to be completed this month. The review is a prelude to a free trade agreement that Commerce Secretary Liz Truss has said the UK is seeking.
The GCC is already one of the UK’s largest trading partners, with two-way trade amounting to almost £ 45 billion in 2019.
Bahrain has been pushing for free trade talks to begin before the review is completed, but the UK wanted to wait for the investigation into what barriers the two sides needed to address before the talks began. Bahrain has already produced a white paper with its thoughts and expectations on what could be included in any agreement. One proposal is for the GCC to craft a relatively skeletal agreement on which individual countries could build in bilateral talks with the UK.
The UK is likely to face intense parliamentary scrutiny of any trade deal with the Gulf states due to its human rights record. Liberal Democrat Lord Scriven said: “I am dismayed, but unfortunately it does not surprise me that the Prime Minister rolled out the red carpet and put the trade on torture with his meeting with the Crown Prince today. Even the official press release does not mention human rights abuses. “
The UK is a close ally of Bahrain and says it is working with Bahrain to help the country reform its penal system.
In a sign of pressure to come, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), said: “If Britain is really seeking a free trade agreement with a regime holding political prisoners hostage , tortures children and throws even the mildest critics in jail, it is imperative that human rights issues are at the center of any future business relationship. “
Reprieve, the campaign group against the death penalty, pointed to the cases of Mohammed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa, two men who have faced execution since at least 2017 for what they “confessed” under torture.
In a joint report coinciding with the visit, Reprieve and Bird said: “Between 2011 and 2020, Bahrain has sentenced at least 51 people to death. Between 2001 and 2010, the decade before the Arab Spring, the number of those executed was seven. They stated that, per capita, Bahrain’s record was not substantially better than Iran’s.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism