LONDON: Britain must stop taking its relationship with the UAE for granted and become more proactive in fostering stronger ties, according to a parliamentary delegation that visited the Gulf state last month.
Speaking on Wednesday at an event reflecting on the visit and hosted by The Emirates Society, former UK MP and lifetime peer John Woodcock said the UAE has “seized” its opportunity to be a more collaborative player on the world stage.
“The UAE has shown that it wants to participate in addressing the major concerns facing the world today, as evidenced by its decision to host this year’s COP28,” he added.
“It’s absolutely incumbent on the UK government to lean into this and embrace the UAE’s desire for change and collaboration.
“Our trip evidenced their commitment to this, showing a consensus of opinion going beyond the West’s when it came to addressing the environment.”
Woodcock said it is not only the issue of climate change that the UK can learn from, but the general sense of collaboration sought and offered by the UAE in its international relations.
Noting that the “days of the British Empire” are long past, he added that the UK has to show greater determination in wanting to build partnerships with other countries, rather than relying on its past. The UK, he said, must “fight for its place at the table.”
Steve McCabe, an MP with Britain’s main opposition Labour Party who was also on the trip, said: “Relations between the UK and UAE are good and strong, but the UK is guilty of taking that for granted.
“The level of understanding from parliamentarians on the UAE is so, so low, so our outreach is vital.
“We need to become more proactive as there are immense opportunities for the UK if it burnishes its relationship with the UAE.”
McCabe and Woodcock said there exists cross-party support for improving ties to the UAE. This, Woodcock said, is “unsurprising given the shared goals on climate, trade and other things.”
But McCabe said what is holding improvements back is the absence of “high-level contact,” adding that there is one thing the British government has to prioritize. “The UK needs to … crack on with pursuing a bilateral trade deal with the UAE,” he stressed.
“This is the message that will shift things. It will step us beyond the old conventional way of thinking.
“The focus initially will be on trade, but at some stage it will move beyond this and will show we too are seeking a collaborator.”
Questioned on how the trade deal would look, both McCabe and Woodcock said they had not been able “to get into its guts,” and the UAE first needs proof of a fully engaged partner.
Woodcock was, however, able to state that both parties would be looking for a more “granular” — or comprehensive — deal, and that once the UK has shown sincerity in its decision to pursue an agreement, the Emiratis would get it done quickly.