UK premier throws weight behind Saudi Arabia in decisive speech

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May talks with guests after making a speech on Monday at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2017

UK premier throws weight behind Saudi Arabia in decisive speech

LONDON: The UK Prime Minister Theresa May has thrown her weight behind Saudi Arabia and other “key partners” in the Middle East, as she condemned “external aggression” from Iran-backed proxies.
Addressing leading business figures on Monday at a banquet in London, the prime minister said she will “provide support” for allies in the region given the threat from terror groups.
May said: “If we are to achieve enduring stability in the Middle East, we must make an offer which supports both the long-term security and prosperity of our key partners, and encourages them to be champions of the global order.
“As we are doing in countries from Saudi Arabia to Jordan, we will provide support to help them defend and protect their borders and their cities from external aggression — from terrorists to Iranian-backed proxies.”
The premier said she would also step up efforts to help “not just contain, but solve conflicts in the region, from seeking political solutions in Yemen and Libya, to bolstering a united Iraq and working toward a two-state solution in the Middle East Peace Process.”
She said: “While we will stand firm in our support for the Iran nuclear deal, we are also determined to counter destabilizing Iranian actions in the region and their ballistic missile proliferation, working with the US, France and Germany in particular.”
May added: “This support is a matter of urgency. As we see with the events of the last few weeks, from Lebanon to the GCC dispute, our partners see the threats they face as immediate and are straining for the means to tackle them.”
Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, said the speech shows that May is displaying her definitive support of Saudi Arabia.
Mekelberg said the timing of May’s speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall was also related to concerns about Lebanon’s unstable politics, which is fueling regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“There is a clear departure in her position. She is very clear about what side of the fence she is on … she is siding with Saudi Arabia and Jordan against Iran and Hezbollah,” he said.
“It makes sense because British relations are traditionally closer with Saudi Arabia politically and economically and in the current environment — with the situation in Lebanon and Syria — she is more mindful that she needs to contain Iran.
“It’s refreshing for the PM to have a clear opinion on it. It’s clear that Iran is not playing ball on its nuclear terms and the UK is not happy. Does it represent a change of policy? It’s about clarifying where the UK stands … she has put it in more absolute terms.”
In the same speech on Monday, May blasted Vladimir Putin’s government for trying to “undermine free societies” and “sow discord” in the West by “weaponizing information” and “deploying its state-run media organizations to plant fake stories.”
Matthew Goodwin, professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, and associate fellow at Chatham House, told Arab News: “While it is tempting to think that these US and UK (political) revolts were all about big data manipulation and Russian bots, the reality is far, far more complex. The deeper question that faces moderate centrists across the West is how can they get back on the front foot in terms of ideas and ideology. Many of those who voted for Brexit, Trump and national populists did so because they support their ideas.”
Experts have been quick to point out the “Churchillian” nature of May’s speech — and said part of the aim was also to show strength amid a number of difficulties at home.
Mekelberg said: “This is a woman who is in a very precarious position … she is being circled by vultures who want to weaken her, such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Minister Michael Gove.”
Referring to May’s recent struggles with complex Brexit negotiations and Conservative Party infighting, Mekelberg said: “The tone of her speech is unusually strong. Her job is hanging by a thread and she is trying to display a show of strength.
“In light of the dire situation at home, there are elements of her trying to deflect the issue.”
Ben Martill, Dahrendorf Fellow in Europe after Brexit at The London School of Economics (LSE), agreed that May’s strong and clear political stance is designed to divert focus from a crumbling party and the rocky Brexit negotiations.
“Why is (she) choosing to talk about it now,” he said. “It’s because she has never been in a more embattled position so she wants to change the subject.”


Merkel warns of Brexit economic pain before Johnson visit

Updated 21 August 2019

Merkel warns of Brexit economic pain before Johnson visit

  • “The economic sky is not cloudless,” Merkel told an aviation industry conference
  • “That’s why I will talk with the British prime minister, who is visiting me today"

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday of the economic impact of a chaotic no-deal Brexit, hours before she was to receive British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his first foreign visit.
“The economic sky is not cloudless,” and global tensions and Britain’s impending departure from the European Union “are already causing us headaches,” Merkel told an aviation industry conference.
“That’s why I will talk with the British prime minister, who is visiting me today, about how we can avoid friction as much as possible as Britain exits the EU because we have to struggle to achieve economic growth,” the leader of the bloc’s biggest economy added.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert stressed that an orderly Brexit would be “in every respect preferable” to a disorderly withdrawal of Britain, but that Germany was also preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Johnson, in a “do-or-die” gamble, has insisted Britain will leave the EU on October 31, no matter whether it has ironed out remaining differences with the bloc or not, at the risk of economic turmoil.
He is seeking to convince Merkel, and then French President Emmanuel Macron, to renegotiate elements of the UK’s impending divorce from the bloc, including the so-called Ireland backstop plan — something the EU leaders have already ruled out.
He hopes that the other 27 EU members will blink and make concessions to avoid a no-deal Brexit that would hurt people and companies on both sides of the Channel.
Ahead of his Berlin visit, Johnson reaffirmed in a tweet that “we’re going to leave the EU on October 31st and make this country the best in the world to live in,” the message adorned with a Union Jack flag.
In Berlin, Johnson will be received with military honors at 1600 GMT before his talks with Merkel, then head to France for a meeting with Macron on Thursday.
At the weekend, all three will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of Brexit and its champion Johnson, and the leaders of Canada, Italy and Japan at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.
Johnson’s tough stance has put him on a collision course with EU leaders who have insisted the withdrawal deal agreed under his predecessor Theresa May is final and stressed the need for unity among the other 27 nations.
EU Council President Donald Tusk and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the bloc would not cave in to Johnson’s demand to scrap the backstop plan, which would keep Britain in the European customs union if no trade deal is signed.
Johnson has slammed the backstop as “undemocratic” and charged it would prevent Britain from pursuing a trade policy independent of EU rules.
Berenberg Bank senior economist Kallum Pickering predicted that “if Johnson hopes to persuade Merkel and Macron to sweet-talk Varadkar into changing his tune, he will likely be disappointed.”
“All of the EU’s actions so far since the Brexit vote demonstrate that the EU’s priority is the cohesion of the 27.”
Merkel struck a cautiously hopeful note on Tuesday, declaring that the EU was open to “a practical arrangement” for the Irish border if it ensured trade and peace under the Good Friday Agreement.
Given the shock and dismay Brexit has sparked in continental Europe, its vocal champion, the flamboyant former London mayor and ex-foreign minister Johnson, is sure to meet political headwinds.
German media regularly characterises Johnson as a reckless political showman with Trump-style populist tendencies.
News magazine Der Spiegel recently caricatured him as the tooth-gapped cover boy Alfred E. Neuman of the American humor magazine Mad, with the headline “Mad in England.”
Tabloid-style Bild daily nominated Johnson as its “loser of the day” Wednesday after he “hit a brick wall” in his attempts to convince Merkel and Tusk to renegotiate parts of the withdrawal agreement.
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung judged that “Johnson knows that the other 27 EU members will not throw Ireland under a bus, nor will they do anything to harm the integrity of the single market.
“His ‘alternative arrangements’ are just hot air. May spent the last three years looking for alternatives. There are none!“