Ministers today defended Britain’s close ties with Saudi Arabia as Boris Johnson prepares to visit pleading pleading for action to help keep oil prices down amid the Ukraine crisis.
With the PM expected to head for the Kingdom in the coming days, Sajid Javid said the UK was always ‘very candid and frank’ about human rights concerns.
But he insisted that it was important to have a ‘longer-term economic relationship’ amid soaring pump prices and household bills.
Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is said to have snubbed a request from Joe Biden to have a call on the issue of oil supply, as the West tries to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels.
But Mr Johnson is believed to have a better relationship with bin Salman than the US President, whose links have been strained since the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Tories were among those voicing disquiet about the trip in the Commons this afternoon, especially after the Kingdom executed 81 ‘criminals’ on Saturday.
Alongside the international push on oil production, there are claims that the government is looking at extending the lift of coal power stations in the UK.
The PM is also working on a strategy for securing Britain’s future energy supplies by boosting renewables. There are reports that interest-free loans for solar panels and bigger subsidies are on the table, as well as giving the go-ahead for new nuclear plants.
With the PM expected to head for the Kingdom in the coming days, Sajid Javid said the UK was always ‘very candid and frank’ about human rights concerns
There is speculation that Boris Johnson (left) could head for Saudi Arabia in the coming days for a meeting with Mohammed bin Salman (right)
Rishi Sunak is facing growing demands for action to ease the pressure on families as prices at the pump and energy bills rocket. Pictured, prices in Wimborne on Friday
Ex-energy minister backs ‘trying again’ on fracking in the UK
A former Cabinet minister has backed ‘trying again’ with fracking in the UK.
Andrea Leadsom, who was Business Secretary when the moratorium was introduced in November 2019, said the government should do more to get communities on board with the technique.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, she said: ‘We should absolutely stick to our commitment of net zero by 2050 target but it was always that case that in achieving net zero we would need to increase our use of the lowest carbon fossil fuel, and that is natural gas.’
She added: ‘We’ve got to, of course, increase our use of renewables, and particularly of batteries for storage, but at the same time, we’ve got to be looking at ramping up production in the North Sea, and yes, potentially even looking again at shale gas extraction.’
Asked about whether it had been a mistake to place a ban on fracking, she said she understood the ‘fury and frustration’ of local communities, but that she thought there was an ‘awful lot of fake news’ about the practice.
She said: ‘If we were to try again with shale gas extraction, it would have to be on the basis of an agreement with local communities that they would get their gas for free. That could persuade them to want to explore the opportunities again.’
Ms Leadsom suggested that Rishi Sunak should be axing VAT on energy bills in his Spring Statement next week.
‘I also think the chancellor will be wanting to look at an emergency package of measures such as, for example, reducing or scrapping VAT on energy bills, but also, potentially looking at the huge profits that are being made by some of the oil and gas companies and looking at what can be done to scrape part of that back for households,’ she said.
The diplomatic mission by Mr Johnson is highly controversial, especially as the Kingdom executed 81 people over the weekend convicted of crimes ranging from killings to belonging to militant groups.
However, increase in Saudi production or releasing reserves could have a significant impact in keeping fuel prices down in the UK, which have been spiking amid the standoff with Russia.
The PM and crown prince discussed ‘energy cooperation’ on a call last month.
Replying to an urgent question in the Commons this afternoon, Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling said: ‘We are shocked by the execution of 81 individuals on March 13.
‘The United Kingdom strongly opposes the death penalty in all countries and in all circumstances as a matter of principle.
‘The UK ambassador has already raised the UK’s strong concerns with the Saudi national security adviser and their vice-foreign minister.’
Ms Milling said the UK will seek further clarification on the cases, adding: ‘No aspect of our relationship with Saudi Arabia prevents us from speaking frankly about human rights.’
Conservative former minister Crispin Blunt said the executions was ‘of profound concern’.
He said: ‘This represents a new low for human rights and criminal justice in the kingdom, coming only a week after the Crown Prince had promised to modernise the Saudi justice system.’
He warned Mr Johnson will face ‘exquisite difficulties’ on his visit to Saudi Arabia as a result of the executions.
‘What assurances will he be seeking from Saudi Arabia in respect of human rights on his next visit there?’ he said.
‘Will he at least seek an assurance that the execution of those arrested for alleged crimes when children will cease?
‘Will he make clear to the Crown Prince how appalled friends of the kingdom are, particularly in light of the state’s assassination of Jamal Khashoggi only three years ago?’
Ms Milling said the UK can speak ‘frankly’ on human rights with Saudi Arabia, adding: ‘We raise concerns with the Saudi authorities regarding the juvenile death penalty application.
Asked this morning about the Saudi mission, Mr Javid told Sky News that ‘wherever there are human rights issues we’ve raised them with them, and we can do that because we have this relationship’.
He said: ‘But we also have an economic relationship with Saudi Arabia. We’re not dependent directly as a country on their oil but energy prices and access to energy is a hugely important issue.
‘So I’m pleased that we can have this relationship with Saudi Arabia where we can talk about the human rights issues as well as our longer-term economic relationship.’
Although Britain buys very small quantities from Moscow, it is still exposed to spiralling costs on the international wholesale markets.
Rishi Sunak is facing growing demands for action to ease the pressure on families as prices at the pump and energy bills rocket.
Polls have suggested 40 per cent fear they might not be able to pay gas and electric bills if they keep going up.
But the Chancellor is understood to be resisting laying out another big package of help in his Spring statement later this month – with aides stressing that energy costs could change a lot by October.
The public finances have been hammered by Covid, and so far Mr Sunak has announced council tax rebates for many properties and a £200 loan to cut energy bills this Autumn. It will, though, be repaid by being added to bills over the following five years.
In contrast, France and Ireland are among the countries that have brought in a temporary cut in fuel duty to save people money.
Tory MPs have suggested that Mr Johnson could convince the Saudis to release more oil.
Andrew Murrison, who served as Mr Johnson’s Middle East minister until February 2020, told The Daily Telegraph last week: ‘The energy crunch means that jurisdictions are going to have to look further afield for continuity of supply…
‘The UK has always maintained a positive and constructive relationship with Saudi Arabia based on dialogue.’
The crown prince is said to have snubbed a request from Joe Biden (pictured) to have a call on the issue of oil supply, as the West tries to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk