PM accused of ‘rolling out red carpet’ as Saudi crown prince to visit UK

Downing Street has not denied reports that Rishi Sunak will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the autumn  – just five years after the murder of a US-based journalist caused outrage around the world.

The crown prince and the state’s day-to-day leader was accused of ordering the assassination of the Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 – a charge he has denied and blamed on rogue agents.

The scheduled visit in the autumn, which was first reported by the Financial Times, will be Prince Mohammed’s first to Britain since the murder, which was widely condemned and saw him shunned on the world stage.

The FT said details of the trip had not yet been finalised and quoted an official who said: “It’s more up to them, given we need them more than they need us.”

A Downing Street spokesperson declined to comment on reports of the meeting when approached by Sky News.

A Number 10 source said there was currently “no date in the diary”.

Saudi officials killed the Washington Post columnist at the country’s consulate in Istanbul by reportedly dismembering him – although his remains have never been found.

More on Jamal Khashoggi

The US intelligence community concluded Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had approved the killing of the well-known and respected journalist, while a UN expert who investigated the murder also said there was “credible evidence” that MBS was responsible for the murder.

Any visit to the UK will be interpreted as the latest sign of Western countries softening their stance towards the controversial leader and follows a similar move by the US to integrate the crown prince back into the diplomatic fold.

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UN: ‘Credible evidence’ Saudi crown prince responsible for Khashoggi murder

UK efforts to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia ramped up following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson visited Riyadh in March 2022 in the hope it would help persuade the kingdom to boost its own production of oil and gas and end the Western “addiction” to Russian fossil fuels.

Last year, US President Joe Biden was accused of “capitulation” after his administration said the crown prince, also known as MBS, should not face legal action over Khashoggi’s murder.

The State Department declared that Prince Mohammed’s high office should protect him from prosecution for his alleged role in the slaying – despite Mr Biden previously vowing to make a “pariah” out of the country’s rulers.

The official call for MBS to be granted immunity came as he faced a lawsuit filed by the fiancée of Khashoggi and the rights group he founded, Democracy for the Arab World Now, which was dismissed in December by a US judge.

The UK visit will not be the first time Mr Sunak has met Prince Mohammed.

Last November, Mr Sunak met the crown prince on the margins of the G20 summit in Bali last November, where the two leaders discussed social reforms, women’s rights and civil liberties.

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However, Number 10 said at the time that Mr Sunak did not raise the murder of Mr Khashoggi.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK’s foreign policy adviser, said the crown prince “must be properly held to account for abuses by Saudi officials, including Khashoggi’s murder”.

She said: “There must be no question of the UK rolling out the red carpet for Mohammed bin Salman or of the Saudi ruler being able to use this visit to rehabilitate himself on the world stage.

“The visit looks set to coincide with the five-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s sickening assassination and dismemberment at the hands of Saudi agents in Turkey, a crime which has essentially been covered up by the unrepentant Saudi authorities.”

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