Philip Hammond visits Saudi Arabia days after envoy's warning on ties


The Foreign Secretary has travelled to Saudi Arabia just days after the country's ambassador to the UK warned of an "alarming change" in the relationship between the two countries.

Philip Hammond said his four-nation tour of the Gulf would allow him to talk to "key partners" about "security issues" ahead of a major conference on Saturday.

But the timing of his visit will raise eyebrows following the ambassador's warning of "potentially serious repercussions" of a breakdown in relations with the UK and a lack of "mutual respect".

Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz singled out the cancellation of a deal to train prison staff in the Gulf state as he railed against an "alarming change in the way Saudi Arabia is discussed in Britain".

In an unusual public intervention, he wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph in which he warned the wealthy kingdom would not be "lectured to" and urged respect for its strict system of Sharia law.

The cancellation of a bid for a Saudi prison consultancy contract and the threatened flogging of a 74-year-old expat British grandfather who breached strict alcohol laws have strained relations between the UK and the Gulf state.

Karl Andree has served his time in jail but is still locked up as Saudi officials wait to carry out the lashings, according to his family, despite Mr Cameron pledging a personal intervention.

The Foreign Office confirmed that Mr Hammond would raise consular cases with the Saudi authorities.

A spokesman said: "During the Gulf visit, the Foreign Secretary will also discuss the ongoing conflict in Yemen. As usual on all visits, he will raise consular cases, including current Saudi judicial cases."

On the regional visit Mr Hammond will meet the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to discuss regional security and the crisis in Syria, ahead of international talks in Vienna on Friday.

At the weekend, he will give a speech on extremism - which he described as "the great challenge of our time" - at a summit in Bahrain hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The Foreign Office said he will make clear that the UK's national security is heavily linked to that of the region, highlighting continued commitment to a military presence in the Gulf.