Boris Johnson has declared Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “key international partners” in efforts to reduce dependence on Russian energy after the invasion of Ukraine.
On the eve of a controversial visit to the Gulf states on Wednesday, the Prime Minister argued it is necessary to strengthen ties with the nations to tackle Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Johnson will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh days after the largest mass execution in the kingdom in modern history.
He will visit the UAE’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi earlier in the day, as both rulers’ records on human rights come under renewed scrutiny.
Battling the cost-of-living crisis being compounded by the West weaning itself off Russia’s oil and gas, the Prime Minister is seeking to boost Gulf oil production to alleviate soaring prices.
But critics have questioned the choice to particularly strengthen ties with Mohammed bin Salman, with the Saudi leader having been implicated in the assassination of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that “going cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not an energy strategy”.
In a statement ahead of setting off on Tuesday evening, Mr Johnson said: “The brutal and unprovoked assault President Putin has unleashed on Ukraine will have far-reaching consequences for the world, well beyond Europe’s borders.
“The UK is building an international coalition to deal with the new reality we face. The world must wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons and starve Putin’s addiction to oil and gas.
“Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are key international partners in that effort. We will work with them to ensure regional security, support the humanitarian relief effort and stabilise global energy markets for the longer term.”
Conservative MPs and human rights watchdogs have been among those calling for the Prime Minister to question the nations on their track records, with Saudi Arabia executing 81 people convicted of crimes ranging from killings to belonging to militant groups on Saturday.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman has largely been shunned by the West after US intelligence alleged he ordered the murder of Mr Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, something the Saudi ruler denies.
One person who did embrace him however was the Russian president, with the prince and Mr Putin sharing a high-five and a laugh at a G20 summit in the month following the October 2018 killing.
Labour’s shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said: “It is a sign of our vulnerability and energy insecurity as a country that the Prime Minister is going to Saudi Arabia to seek an increase in oil production, despite the appalling human rights record of the regime.
“Once again it demonstrates that the best solution to the energy crisis we face is a green energy sprint at home so once and for all we end of our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Mr Johnson, who will be deputised at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, has argued he needs to “build the widest possible coalition” to address Mr Putin’s invasion.
The Prime Minister is expected to discuss the importance of allies increasing the diplomatic and economic pressure on the Kremlin while mitigating the global fallout of the war.
During the trip, Downing Street expects Saudi Arabia’s alfanar group will confirm £1 billion of investment in the Lighthouse Green Fuels Project in Teesside, trying to produce sustainable aviation fuel from waste.
It is hoped the project will create more than 700 jobs during construction, and around 240 full-time jobs once fully operational.
Conservative MP Julian Lewis, who chairs Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, called on the Government to ensure that “in seeking to lessen our dependence upon one source of oil and gas, we do not end up creating a source dependency on another unreliable and sometimes hostile regime”.
Mr Johnson, who will travel overnight before starting the trip in the UAE on Wednesday morning, will be joined by investment minister Lord Grimstone.