Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince sat down face to face to Theresa May today as Britain rolled out the red carpet.
The leaders, together with senior officials on both sides, convened the first ever UK-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council. The high-powered meeting will be repeated annually to build ties.
Earlier Mohammed bin Salman lunched with the Queen and Duke of York at Buckingham Palace as Britain rolls out the red carpet for his three day visit to Britain.
He then travelled to Downing Street for the high powered talks and a security briefing with British intelligence.
But the trip looks set to be overshadowed by protests which began today as demonstrators descended on Whitehall carrying placards.
Human rights demonstrators dressed as Mrs May and the Crown Prince descended on Westminster while red double-decker buses carried protesters through Westminster.
Theresa May (pictured left with ministers including Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, Chancellor Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Education Secretary Damian Hinds and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt) sat face to face Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the inaugural UK-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council today
The Crown Prince (pictured addressing the council meeting today) is also due to receive a security briefing from British intelligence while visiting Downing Street
Theresa May welcomed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to No 10 Downing Street this afternoon (pictured) after he lunched with the Queen at Buckingham Palace
Mrs May has vowed to raise concerns over the conduct of Saudi’s war in Yemen during today’s talks amid growing anger at the roll of British personnel in advising the Saudi airforce
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with the Queen at Buckingham Palace earlier (pictured) to kick off a three-day trip set to be dominated by protests
Meeting the Queen in a private audience was a signal of the diplomatic importance Britain placed upon the visit by the Crown Prince as the Government scrambles to build closer ties with the Kingdom
But she defended Britain’s close ties with the country as she was challenged over it during today’s PMQs in the Commons.
Mrs May said: ‘The link that we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, it is an important one and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country.’
She added: ‘I will be raising concerns abut human rights with the Crown Prince when I meet him.’
The Prime Minister will also call for urgent progress on securing a political resolution in Yemen when she has her first meeting with the Crown Prince later.
Her remarks came after Jeremy Corbyn accused her Government of ‘colluding’ with war crimes by selling arms to Riyadh while it stands accused of breaching human rights laws in Yemen.
The Labour leader said: ‘Germany has suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia but British arms sales have sharply increased and British military advisers are directing war.
‘It cannot be right that her government is colluding in what the United Nations says is evidence of war crimes.
‘Will the Prime Minister use her meeting today with the crown prince to halt the arms supplies and demand an immediate ceasefire in Yemen?’
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman then told reporters: ‘British military personnel are in the operations room where these bombing campaigns are being conducted. They are advising directly on the targeting of infrastructure and operations in Yemen.
‘If they are trying to avoid civilian casualties, it has been a disastrous failure since the civilian casualties have been extremely high and the targeting of schools and hospitals in Yemen by the Saudi air force is on a very large scale.
‘There is clearly evidence of war crimes having been carried out in Yemen by the Saudi air force.
‘Targeting of civilian infrastructure, hospitals and schools – which has happened on a large scale in Yemen – is a war crime.
‘It is essential that stops.
Hitting back at Mr Corbyn’s comments in PMQs today, Mrs May’s official spokesman said: ‘The suggestion that the British military advisers are directing the war is simply not true.
‘The United Kingdom is not a member of the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen, British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen, and are not involved in the Saudi targeting decision making process.’
The Crown Prince’s trip will also include dinner with the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge tonight.
He will also see Mrs May again at her country retreat of Chequers tomorrow, and hold talks with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson on Friday.
Part of the visit will be the first annual Strategic Partnership Council between Britain and Saudi Arabia in Downing Street today.
Ahead of the trip, Mrs May’s official spokesman said: ‘You can expect them to discuss Yemen and the Prime Minister to raise deep concerns at the humanitarian situation.’
In her meeting today, the PM will ‘acknowledge the steps’ taken recently by Saudi Arabia to address the crisis.
Mrs May and the Crown Prince (pictured today on the steps of Downing Street) will meet again tomorrow at Chequers
The Crown Prince has spent months building his profile abroad, with a series of trips to the United States and Egypt in recent weeks
But in the talks she will also ‘stress the importance of full and unfettered humanitarian and commercial access’ through the ports of Hodeidah and Salif, which have previously been hit by coalition blockades.
‘She will also reiterate how seriously we take allegations of violations against international humanitarian law and emphasise the need to ensure that these are investigated swiftly and thoroughly,’ the spokesman added.
‘She will make clear that we urgently need to see progress on the political track, which is ultimately the only way to end the conflict and humanitarian suffering in Yemen.’
Yemen has been embroiled in a bloody civil war since 2014 when rebels took over the capital city of Sanaa.
Saudi Arabia is the main player in a coalition supporting the Yemeni government against the Houthis in a war which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.
Britain has been criticised in some quarters for arms sales to the kingdom during the war.
The Saudi delegation poured into No 10 today (pictured) for the inaugural Strategic Partnership Council between London and Riyadh. The meeting is due to be held annually
The summit is the first annual event dedicated to building ties between Britain and Saudi Arabia. It involves business and defence officials on both sides
Summoned to the Commons to answer an urgent question on Britain’s controversial relationship with Saudi Arabia, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt defended the visit.,
He questioned how the ‘personal comments’ made would ‘constitute a decent start to such a relationship’.
On Yemen, he said: ‘There is not indiscriminate bombing of civilians as has been alleged,’ adding that ‘there’s been no silence from the UK’.
On humanitarian issues, he said there was not a blockade or restriction of goods coming in. The UK he added had been working hard for a diplomatic solution.
He said: ‘Calling for a ceasefire is not the same as having one…nor is she giving full credit to the efforts that are being made to try and bring this matter to an end.
‘She is not the sole holder of conscience in this place as we deal with the difficulties of trying to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, that is what we are seeking to do and we will bend all our efforts to that and we will continue to do so with or without her support.’
Metropolitan Police officers were on standby outside Downing Street tonight as protesters gathered to condemn the visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
Critics claim Mohammed Bin Salman is a ‘war criminal’ because of the Saudi war in Yemen and a large demonstration is expected outside Downing Street
Protesters dressed up as Theresa May and the Crown Prince descended on Parliament today to protest at his visit and the war in Yemen
Campaigners from ‘Save the Children’ protest against the visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the UK with a statue protest outside Parliament. The protests risk overshadowing the three-day visit by the Crown Prince
The Crown Prince has been the driving force behind a modernisation programme, Vision 2030, in Saudi Arabia, but the reforms have been dismissed as a ‘mirage’ by campaigners.
It is hoped today’s Downing Street summit could lead to Saudi investment in and through the UK of up to £100 billion over the next 10 years.
The crown prince has also been granted rare access to a briefing on foreign policy issues, including Yemen, by national security officials.
The Government has faced criticism over its arms sales to the kingdom but Downing Street insists it ‘operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world’.
Human rights campaigners are planning to stage a protest outside Downing Street at 5pm on Wednesday.
According to analysis by human rights charity Reprieve, executions have doubled under the Crown Prince.
The organisation said since his appointment in July 2017, 133 people had been executed compared with 67 in the previous eight months.
Amnesty International said reforms in Saudi Arabia were ‘largely a mirage’, with ‘peaceful critics’ of the government thrown in jail and women reliant on permission from men if they want to travel, be educated or get a job.
UK director Kate Allen said: ‘We’d like to see Theresa May finally showing some backbone in the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
‘Mrs May and her ministers should challenge the Saudi authorities over their atrocious human rights record, not swallow the unconvincing spin from Riyadh.’
Rob Williams, chief executive at War Child UK, a charity for children affected by conflict, said: ‘Britain is complicit in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen through providing diplomatic support to Saudi Arabia, as well as selling our most high tech and deadly weapons to a coalition that the United Nations has verified as committing grave violations against children.
‘I urge Theresa May to now stand for values that Britain can be proud of, a nation that sets an example to the world, that is principled and compassionate and prioritises children’s lives over trade deals.’