Defence contracts on the agenda as Prime Minister arrives in UAE


David Cameron will tomorrow arrive in the United Arab Emirates on a mission to sell Britain's expertise in producing everything from bombs to hospitals.

His three-day visit to the Gulf region will see him tour Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia and will also include bilateral discussions on the threat posed by Iran.

Mr Cameron will use the trip to attempt to drum up billions of pounds worth of additional defence exports.

However, he will also promote British hospitals, such as Great Ormond Street and King's College, which are looking to expand overseas as part of a wider Government initiative to "sell" the NHS around the world.

It is understood that Great Ormond Street was recently awarded preferred bidder status to create the UAE's first ever dedicated paediatric hospital, while King's is also interested in running new specialised treatment centres in the region.

Downing Street aides pointed out that this was Mr Cameron's second visit to both countries since taking office, underlining the strategic and economic importance of the region to Britain.

However, the emphasis on defence sales is likely to concern arms trade campaigners.

Mr Cameron is said to want to significantly boost the British defence industry – worth £5.4bn in annual exports. The Prime Minister will use the trip to specifically promote the Typhoon jet to Gulf leaders.

The Emirates have shown interest in placing an order for up to 60 jets and Mr Cameron will fly to a military airbase near Dubai along with the deputy chief of staff of the UAE armed forces and the Emirates' minister of state for foreign affairs to inspect the aircraft.

Downing Street said the sale of Typhoon jets to the UAE was just one element of a "much more concerted effort" to establish a long-term strategic defence partnership with the country.

Mr Cameron will discuss with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the UAE prime minister how best to develop a strategic air defence relationship, specifically potential collaboration on the development of the next generation of military aerospace equipment.

"Such joint co-operation would mark a new step in the Government's development of defence equipment which has traditionally been with NATO allies," a spokeswoman said.

Mr Cameron faces a tough balancing act, however, as he attempts to secure billions in investment from the oil-rich states while addressing concerns about their human rights records. The Arab Spring has led to an increased focus on autocratic rule in many states, including crackdowns on pro-democracy and other protest movements.

The Government has been criticised for failing to condemn abuses and accused of continuing to sell military equipment with insufficient guarantees it would not be used in repression.