Concerns over Saudi role in Yemen to be raised during crown prince's visit


Theresa May will raise "deep concerns" over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen during talks with Saudi Arabia's crown prince as he embarks on a three day visit to the UK.

Mohammed bin Salman will be received by the Queen at Buckingham Palace at the start of a trip that is set to be dominated by protests over his country's role in the bloody civil war in Yemen.

The Prime Minister will  call for urgent progress on securing a political resolution to the crisis when she meets the crown prince.

"You can expect them to discuss Yemen and the Prime Minister to raise deep concerns at the humanitarian situation," the PM's official spokesman said.

Mohammed bin Salman visit to UK
There are expected to be protests against the visit (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)

Yemen has been embroiled in a bloody civil war since 2014 when rebels took over the capital city of Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia is the main player in a coalition supporting the Yemeni government against the Houthis in a war which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

The PM will "acknowledge the steps" taken recently by Saudi Arabia to address the crisis but will "stress the importance of full and unfettered humanitarian and commercial access" through the ports of  Hodeidah and Salif, which have previously been hit by coalition blockades.

"She will also reiterate how seriously we take allegations of violations against international humanitarian law and emphasise the need to ensure that these are investigated swiftly and thoroughly," the spokesman added.

"She will make clear that we urgently need to see progress on the political track, which is ultimately the only way to end the conflict and humanitarian suffering in Yemen."

The crown prince has been the driving force behind a modernisation programme, Vision 2030,  in Saudi Arabia, but the reforms have been dismissed as a "mirage" by campaigners.

On Wednesday he will have lunch with the Queen and dinner with the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge as the UK rolls out the red carpet for the controversial figure.

The inaugural meeting of a UK Saudi strategic partnership council , which will meet annually to discuss bilateral and international issues, will be held at No 10 and attended by UK and Saudi ministers.

It is hoped the forum could lead to Saudi investment in and through the UK of up to £100 billion over the next 10 years.

The crown prince has also been granted rare access to a briefing on foreign policy issues, including Yemen, by national security officials.

On Thursday the crown prince will head to Chequers  for talks and a private dinner with the PM that will focus on foreign policy issues, including Yemen and Iran.

On Friday, he will meet Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson for talks.

The Government has faced criticism over its arms sales to the kingdom but Downing Street insists it "operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world".

Human rights campaigners are planning to stage a protest outside Downing Street at 5pm on Wednesday.

According to analysis by human rights charity Reprieve, executions have doubled under the Crown Prince.

The organisation said since his appointment in July 2017, 133 people had been executed compared with 67 in the previous eight months.

Amnesty International said reforms in Saudi Arabia were "largely a mirage", with "peaceful critics" of the government thrown in jail and women reliant on permission from men if they want to travel, be educated or get a job.

UK director Kate Allen said:  "We'd like to see Theresa May finally showing some backbone in the UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

"Mrs May and her ministers should challenge the Saudi authorities over their atrocious human rights record, not swallow the unconvincing spin from Riyadh."

Rob Williams,  chief executive at War Child UK, a charity for children affected by conflict, said: "Britain is complicit in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen through providing diplomatic support to Saudi Arabia, as well as selling our most high tech and deadly weapons to a coalition that the United Nations has verified as committing grave violations against children.

"I urge Theresa May to now stand for values that Britain can be proud of, a nation that sets an example to the world, that is principled and compassionate and prioritises children's lives over trade deals."