Boris Johnson returns from trip to Saudi Arabia without commitment on oil

Boris Johnson has failed to secure a commitment from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to raise oil production after a day-long visit to the two Gulf countries.

The UK prime minister was heavily criticised by MPs ahead of his trip to Riyadh after the government executed 81 people on terrorism and related charges at the weekend. But Johnson defended the decision, arguing that as the world’s largest oil exporter, the kingdom was too important to ignore.

Johnson met the Saudi day-to-day ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a strategic partnership council after arriving from the UAE. The prime minister also said Saudi Arabia would be announcing a £1bn investment in Teesside to produce green aviation fuel.

Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have rebuffed US appeals to increase oil production to offset the loss of Russian oil. Washington has had strained relations with Saudi Arabia since Joe Biden arrived in the White House after he vowed to reassess relations with the kingdom over human rights concerns.

But Johnson, who is seen as having a better relationship with Prince Mohammed, also appears to have walked away empty-handed.

Responding to a question by a reporter about an agreement to raise oil production following his meeting with Prince Mohammed, Johnson said “I think you need to talk to the Saudis.”

He added: “I think there was an understanding of the need to ensure stability in global oil markets and gas markets and the need to avoid damaging price spikes.”

Saudi officials have repeatedly said the kingdom is committed to oil markets stability. The Opec+ group, which includes Russia, has agreed to monthly increases of 400,000 barrels a day.

Johnson’s trip to Saudi Arabia was the most high profile visit by a Western leader since French president Emmanuel Macron came to Riyadh last year. Macron became the first major western leader to visit the country after the 2018 murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi by a team of Saudi security operatives. The CIA said Prince Mohammed must have authorised the operation, which the prince has strenuously denied.

Human rights criticisms have dogged Johnson on his trip after the mass execution on Saturday. “I always raise human rights issues, as British prime ministers before me have done time after time. It’s best if the details of those conversations are kept private, they’re more effective that way,” Johnson said.

“But I think you can also see that in spite of that news you’ve referred to today, things are changing in Saudi Arabia, we want to see them continue to change.”

Prince Mohammed has upended decades of social and economic conventions, ending the power of religious police and allowing women to drive, while trying to diversify the economy away from oil revenues. But he has also brooked little dissent as the authorities jailed rivals and critics, including royals, businessmen, bloggers and activists.

Twice weekly newsletter

Energy is the world’s indispensable business and Energy Source is its newsletter. Every Tuesday and Thursday, direct to your inbox, Energy Source brings you essential news, forward-thinking analysis and insider intelligence. Sign up here.