Kemi Badenoch in UAE for trade talks as Government considers Telegraph takeover

Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary
Kemi Badenoch is to meet the UAE economy minister as the UK attempts to secure a free trade deal with Gulf states - JEFF OVERS/BBC

Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, will meet the United Arab Emirates’ economy minister during her visit to the Middle East country this week, as the Abu Dhabi-funded bid for the Telegraph remains in limbo.

Ms Badenoch and Greg Hands, the trade minister, are both attending a World Trade Organisation (WTO) gathering in the UAE.

The trip comes with the Government still deciding whether to approve a UAE-backed takeover of The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and Spectator magazine.

A bid by RedBird IMI, a fund 75 per cent financed by the UAE, for the titles is being investigated by Ofcom on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). An update from ministers is expected next month.

MPs from across the political divide have raised concerns about a foreign government owning a British newspaper, warning it could undercut impartiality and free speech.

Critics have questioned whether the Government’s attempts to attract investment from the UAE could colour its consideration of whether to let the takeover go ahead.

Ms Badenoch’s visit to the UAE is not linked to the Telegraph sale.

Global trade talks

In recent months, Government spokesmen have consistently said the takeover will not be discussed by ministers who talk to UAE figures about other matters.

Ms Badenoch is due to meet Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri, the UAE minister of economy, and his counterparts from other Gulf states as part of the UK’s attempts to secure a trade deal.

The Government is hoping to strike a free trade deal with a group of six Gulf nations: The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait.

Six rounds of negotiations have already taken place. Ms Badenoch will hold talks with ministers from all six governments in Abu Dhabi this week.

The countries have at least £19 billion already invested in each other’s economies and total trade worth £59 billion.

Ms Badenoch will attend the WTO’s Thirteenth Ministerial Conference, known as MC13. The gathering brings together more than 150 of the world’s trade ministers for a week, with talks on global rules for tariffs, regulations and how businesses sell their goods overseas.

Opportunity knocks

Ms Badenoch said before her trip: “Free trade creates jobs, opportunities for businesses, and puts money in people’s pockets.

“We want to see more barriers torn down, not new ones being put up. This is why it’s important the UK is here at MC13, to secure meaningful outcomes for companies and consumers back home and around the world as part of the Government’s plan to grow the economy and boost opportunities for our young people. I look forward to working with members this week to make that happen.”

The DCMS has commissioned Ofcom, the media regulator, and the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate the proposed UAE-funded takeover of The Telegraph.

However, the Cabinet Office is yet to use another potentially relevant power, stepping in over whether the takeover would undermine UK national security.

Oliver Dowden, the Deputy Prime Minister, would have the final say on whether a national security intervention is justified.

Calls for such a move have come from MPs in different political parties, including Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative Party.

Sir Iain said in a piece for The Telegraph last month: “In a world where we are overwhelmed with information and deepfakes, and where a story can reach the other side of the world in a matter of seconds, the value of reliable journalism – with a commitment to integrity in its reporting – has never been clearer. A free press is the cornerstone of British democracy, especially when it makes life uncomfortable for politicians like me.

“We have a proud tradition of journalistic independence and editorial freedom in this country. That tradition depends on journalists knowing that their publications will stand by them when others seek to silence them. That is why the prospect of the UAE government taking control of The Telegraph should concern us all.”