Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman invited to visit UK in autumn

Offer signals UK desire to attract Saudi investment and deepen relations with Riyadh five years after Jamal Khashoggi murder

The UK government has invited Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to London as Britain seeks to deepen its ties with the kingdom and lure investment from the oil-rich Gulf.

The schedule is still being finalised, but the visit is expected to take place in October or November, people briefed on the trip said, and would be the latest sign of western nations welcoming Prince Mohammed back into the fold five years after Saudi agents murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A British official confirmed that the UK government had offered an invitation to the crown prince but said the precise logistics had not yet been agreed.

The UK has over the past few years sought to bolster ties with Saudi Arabia despite concerns over the kingdom’s human rights record as Britain looks to the Gulf for investment in the wake of Brexit.


Asked what would determine the timing of the visit, a British government official said: “It’s more up to them, given we need them more than they need us.”

Last year, then prime minister Boris Johnson held talks with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh and several British ministers have visited the kingdom since Khashoggi’s murder.

The UK has also held several rounds of negotiations with the Gulf Co-operation Council to thrash out a free trade agreement with the regional bloc that includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.

Over the past two years, the UAE and Qatar have pledged to invest £10 billion (€11.7 billion) in the UK through sovereign investment funds, targeting sectors such as life sciences and technology, while Bahrain this month committed to invest £1 billion.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) led a consortium that bought Newcastle United football club in 2021, and the $650 billion sovereign wealth fund opened an office in London last year.

Sabic, the Saudi petrochemicals group, also has a significant investment in a Teesside chemical plant, Olefins 6, which is Europe’s second-largest ethylene “cracker”.

But Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, has not yet made a commitment to invest a set amount in the UK, as other Gulf states have.

Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s day-to-day leader and chair of the PIF, last visited the UK in March 2018, six months before Saudi agents murdered Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

The West condemned the killing of the veteran journalist, and Prince Mohammed was initially given the cold shoulder, with the UK and other western governments imposing sanctions on Saudis suspected of being involved in the murder.

US intelligence agencies concluded that Prince Mohammed must have authorised the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi. The crown prince denied any involvement and Riyadh blamed the murder on a rogue operation.

Over the past 18 months, western leaders have increasingly reached out to Saudi Arabia as they have sought the kingdom’s co-operation on issues ranging from stabilising energy markets to support for their Middle East policies and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Joe Biden, who pledged to treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah as he campaigned for the US presidency, held talks with Prince Mohammed in Jeddah in July last year as he sought Riyadh’s help in reducing high oil prices which followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

France’s president Emmanuel Macron, who in 2021 became the first leader of a large western state to visit Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s murder, hosted Prince Mohammed in Paris later that month, welcoming him for a second time in June this year. –Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023