Liz Truss unable to name any occasion she has challenged a Gulf state on human rights

’You can’t remember one?’ foreign secretary asked – despite pledge to ‘hold those who violate human rights to account’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 28 June 2022 12:43 BST
Liz Truss can't name single occasion she has raised human rights with a Gulf state

Liz Truss has failed to name a single occasion when she has challenged a Gulf state on human rights abuses – despite promising to hold its leaders “to account”.

Challenged by MPs – as the UK seeks a controversial trade deal with a six-nation bloc including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – the foreign secretary was unable to back up a claim that she raises concerns.

Ms Truss told the foreign affairs committee she would have to provide details later of the “precise timing” of when Gulf leaders have been challenged about human rights violations.

“You can’t remember a single human rights issue you have raised with a Gulf States leader?” asked Chris Bryant, a Labour member of the committee, suggesting the government believes it is “fine to do business” provided a country has not invaded another.

But Ms Truss defended opening talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), arguing the need for “alternative energy sources” to counter Russia must be the priority.

“We are not dealing in a perfect world. We are dealing in a world where we need to make difficult decisions,” she told the committee.

Mr Bryant pointed out that Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, was held responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and that the country recently executed 81 people in a single day.

But Ms Truss described Saudi Arabia as “an important partner of the UK”, adding: “I think it is right that we build that closer trading relationship with Gulf states.”

She added: “Is every country that we work with exactly in line with United Kingdom policy on everything? No, they are not. But they are important allies of the United Kingdom.”

Ms Truss also confirmed the primary aim of UK overseas aid spending has shifted from alleviating poverty to “geo-politics” and challenging the rising threat of China.

Her new strategy is focused on “promoting freedom and democracy around the world” to “challenge the Chinese Belt and Road initiative”, the foreign secretary said.

Ms Truss also rubbished French claims that the UK is interested in joining a loose new “European political community” grouping, being pursued by Emmanuel Macron.

The French president claimed Boris Johnson was enthusiastic in their weekend meeting, but she told the committee “That’s not true. We have not agreed to that.”

The UK is instead striking bilateral agreements with EU countries and views the G7 as the key economic alliance for Britain after Brexit, she said.

Ms Truss also backed defence secretary Ben Wallace’s challenge to the prime minister to hike defence spending from two per cent to 2.5 per cent of GDP.

The UK has “a real issue in terms of the availability of defence equipment”, she told the committee.

She said the government is still considering seizing the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs – an idea first put forward in February – with the proceeds going towards victims of the Ukraine invasion.

She said she agreed with “the concept” but was still working on how to “get the specifics of it right”.

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