Michelle Donelan the third Government minister to visit UAE this week

The focus of Michelle Donelan's trip is strengthening ties on artificial intelligence
The focus of Michelle Donelan's trip is strengthening ties on artificial intelligence - DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

Michelle Donelan, the science secretary, has become the third Government minister to visit the UAE this week while the Abu Dhabi-backed bid for The Telegraph is stuck in limbo.

Ms Donelan is in the country for a two-day trip at the same time as Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, and Greg Hands, the trade minister.

The focus of Ms Donelan’s trip is strengthening ties on artificial intelligence (AI), according to the press release outlining her visit in broad terms.

She met Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the head of a UAE investment firm, and is scheduled to talk to Omar Al Olama, the UAE’s AI minister, though timings are still being confirmed.

A third government figure, Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, the UAE minister of economy, has been taking part in trade deal talks with Ms Badenoch this week.

The engagements between senior UK and UAE government figures come at the same time as an attempted takeover of The Telegraph being funded by Abu Dhabi.

RedBird IMI, a fund 75 per cent financed by the UAE, is trying to gain control of The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Spectator magazine.

But the Culture Department has ordered Ofcom, the media regulator, and the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate the bid, with its fate hanging in the balance.

MPs and peers from across the political divide have sounded the alarm on a foreign state effectively controlling a UK newspaper, warning it could undercut free speech.

‘Regret motion’ tabled

The backlash to the proposal will escalate on Wednesday when the House of Lords debates the Media Bill, a proposed piece of legislation not linked to The Telegraph sale.

Lord Forsyth, the chairman of the Association of Conservative Peers, has tabled a so-called “regret motion”, a parliamentary move to make clear frustration at a piece of legislation.

He has taken the move because the Bill, which is the first major update to media legislation for 20 years, does not attempt to address questions about foreign state ownership.

Lord Forsyth
Lord Forsyth says the Media Bill 'has huge implications for free speech and the quality of our journalism'

The motion talks about “regrets that the Bill does not make provision concerning the ownership and control by foreign governments of newspapers in the United Kingdom”.

The parliamentary move means that a Government minister will have to respond to the criticism in the House of Lords. It could allow other peers to express their views on the matter.

Lord Forsyth, a former Scottish secretary, explained his reasoning: “This is a media bill and one of the most important issues facing the media is whether foreign governments should be able to own and control newspapers in this country.

“That has huge implications for free speech and the quality of our journalism. If it is a media bill it should be addressed.”

Ms Donelan’s visit will take her to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The UAE is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East.

AI collaboration

The minister said: “My visit to the UAE marks the beginning of a new chapter to deepen AI collaboration. The country’s early recognition of AI’s transformative potential and their commitment to safety positions them as an important partner for the UK as we advance the global conversation on safe and responsible AI development.

“I am looking forward to laying the foundations which will allow us to explore new investment opportunities, how we can continue to develop world-leading talent, and the adoption of AI technologies, paving the way for stronger ties in this generation-defining technology.”

Ms Badenoch and Mr Hands are attending the World Trade Organisation’s Thirteenth Ministerial Conference, known as MC13, being hosted in the UAE.

It brings together more than 150 of the world’s trade ministers for a week, with discussions on global rules for tariffs, regulations and how businesses sell their goods overseas.

Government spokesmen have said that The Telegraph takeover will not be discussed when Government ministers meet UAE figures.