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UK deputy PM makes secret trip to UAE after rising diplomatic tensions

Oliver Dowden travelled to Emirates last week, following failed Telegraph takeover and spat over alleged Emirati involvement in the Sudan war
Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden arrives to attend an annual Commonwealth Day service ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London, on 11 March 2024 (AFP/Daniel Leal)
Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden attends a Commonwealth Day service ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London, on 11 March (AFP/Daniel Leal)

The UK's deputy prime minister made a secret trip to the United Arab Emirates last week to repair ties with the Gulf country, after months of rising tensions. 

Oliver Dowden made the trip before travelling onwards as part of an official delegation to Saudi Arabia, according to a report in the Financial Times. 

The trip came amidst anger in Abu Dhabi over British parliamentarians blocking a proposed UAE-backed takeover of the Telegraph newspaper. 

UAE-backed fund RedBird IMI aimed to acquire the Telegraph through paying off debts of around £1.2bn ($1.53bn) owed by the Barclay family, which controls the British newspaper, to Lloyds bank.

It reportedly came with the intention of transforming the loans into full Emirati possession of The Telegraph, which is valued at £600m.

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However, more than 100 UK lawmakers and former cabinet ministers expressed their rejection of the proposal, calling it a "dangerous Rubicon". 

The backlash prompted legislation to be put forward in the UK parliament banning foreign states from owning newspapers and news magazines, causing the takeover to collapse. 

'Punching bag'

According to British and Emirati officials who spoke to the Financial Times, Abu Dhabi was "taken aback that UK domestic politics appears to have trumped what the UAE considers an important strategic relationship". 

One source close to talks between the two countries said that Emirati officials felt like the country had become a "punching bag" for British politicians attempting to appear tough domestically. 

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UK Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch told the Financial Times that politicians were "often careless about how they speak about other countries . . . There was probably a lot said about the UAE that was very undiplomatic . . . There are lessons to be learned about how we do that better."

Last month, the UAE cancelled a number of meetings with UK ministers after the Emiratis were accused of aiding a paramilitary group waging war in Sudan

Earlier in April, the United Nations Security Council held a meeting about Sudan's civil war - which broke out a year ago - at the request of the UK.

During the session, Sudan's representative accused the UAE of providing backing to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, a charge which Abu Dhabi has denied. 

According to a report in The Times on Sunday, four UK ministerial meetings were cancelled by the Emiratis, who were reportedly angered by the British not jumping to the UAE's defence at the Security Council. 

MEE has reported on the network of supply lines that exist to funnel arms and other goods from the UAE to the RSF, via allied groups and governments in Libya, Chad and the Central African Republic.

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