Johnson courts Gulf after Saudi comments draw putdown

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson attends during the Rome MED Mediterranean Dialogues forum in Rome, Italy December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/Files


By William Maclean

MANAMA (Reuters) – Britain’s exit from the European Union will mean it can forge free trade deals with Gulf Arab allies, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday in a speech also heralding closer defence ties to the conservative monarchies.

Johnson was speaking at a conference in Bahrain a day after footage was published of him accusing Saudi Arabia, an important ally for Britain, and Iran of stoking proxy wars across the Middle East.

Johnson, known for a tendency to go off-script, said in Rome last week that the absence of real leadership in the Middle East had allowed people to twist religion and engage in proxy wars.

Johnson on Friday made no direct reference to those remarks, which Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman said did not reflect actual policy. He instead portrayed a Britain readier than ever to defend, and trade with, its energy-rich Gulf friends.

“Any crisis in the Gulf is a crisis for Britain from day one. Your security is our security,” he told security chiefs at the Manama Dialogue conference, underlining a message May presented at a Gulf Arab summit earlier in the week.

Britain and the six monarchies of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council said in a joint communique at that summit that they intended to build on trade that stood at 30 billion pounds in 2015, and work to remove barriers to investment.


(Reporting by William Maclean and Tom Finn; Editing by John Stonestreet and Robin Pomeroy)


 Reuters International

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