G20 summit: Theresa May says she will press Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman over Khashoggi and Yemen

The prime minister will arrive at the G20 summit in Argentina early on Friday morning

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 30 November 2018 00:00 GMT
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Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives at Ministro Pistarini in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives at Ministro Pistarini in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Reuters)

Theresa May has said that if she meets Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, she will press him over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and slaughter of civilians in Yemen.

The prime minister will arrive at the G20 summit in Argentina early on Friday, with Saudi represented by the crown prince, who is mired in controversy over the death of the journalist last month.

Ms May is going to the two-day summit to bolster trade with Latin America and will also agree the first ever UK trade envoy to Argentina, amid the difficult politics that still exist between the countries since the Falklands conflict.

Officials told The Independent the prime minister will push for reform of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules as she seeks to convince fellow leaders that her Brexit deal will deliver “positive consequences for the world economy”.

Saudi Arabia has come under intense pressure since the murder of Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Turkey on 2 October, but allies who rely on trade with Riyadh have had to walk carefully in order not to disrupt commercial activity.

Asked if Ms May would “shake his hand” when the pair meet in Buenos Aires, a senior government official simply said it was part of “important engagement to address these issues”.

“We have been engaging with the Saudi government in recent weeks in the wake of the murder of Mr Khashoggi,” he said.

“We’ve been doing so in order to deliver a message that we want full accountability and full transparency and, if that opportunity arises for the PM to repeat that message and also to deliver important messages in relation to Yemen for instance, then I’m sure we will take that opportunity to do so.”

The US congress has demanded an investigation into whether the prince was behind Khashoggi’s murder, while the UK also says there needs to be a credible explanation given of exactly what happened.

Meanwhile, an estimated 85,000 children under the age of five are estimated to have died in Yemen from extreme hunger or disease since war broke out between a Saudi-led coalition and Iran-backed rebels.

Up to 14 million people are at risk of famine, blamed largely on the stranglehold the Saudis have imposed on the Yemeni economy.

In Buenos Aires, the prime minister also faces the tricky prospect of the disputed Falkland Islands being raised in bilateral talks with Mauricio Macri, the president of Argentina.

The UK does not believe the islands will be the main focus of the talks, but accepts that Mr Macri is certain to air the controversy, given his public’s expectations.

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Ms May will be the first UK prime minister to visit the Argentinian capital, ahead of the UK taking up its independent seat at the WTO next April, if Brexit goes ahead as planned.

Argentina is Latin America’s third biggest economy and the two leaders are expected to agree the first ever UK trade envoy for the country, although he or she is unlikely to be named.

Latin America is also the fourth largest market in the world with 638 million people, a combined GDP of $5.6 trillion, falling poverty levels and a growing middle-class population.

On Wednesday, the government’s own Brexit analysis warned that even signing independent trade deals with 17 non-EU countries would only boost GDP by a puny 0.2 per cent after 15 years.

But Ms May will shrug off that gloomy forecast, telling fellow leaders: “For the first time in more than four decades, the UK will have an independent trade policy.

“We will play a full and active role on trade on the global stage, working with friends new and old, at a time of unprecedented global interconnectedness.’

She will add: “The announcement of a new trade envoy for Argentina and progress in transitioning our trade agreement with Chile show that we are already taking significant steps to boost trade in fast-growing new markets.”

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