Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed arrived on Thursday at the second destination of his European tour. After visiting the Elysée Palace to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, the next stop for the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces was 10 Downing Street, the legendary residence of the British Prime Minister, where he was received by the head of government, the Conservative Boris Johnson, with the aim of strengthening the historic ties between London and Abu Dhabi.
"The UK and the UAE are natural partners and allies, with a shared belief in harnessing the technologies of the future to tackle climate change, solve global problems and bring prosperity to our people," said Johnson. During the meeting, the Emirati leader offered to strengthen the investment agreement signed in March this year. Under the deal, the UAE agreed to invest £1 billion in the UK's life sciences sector.
The terms of the talks have revolved around extending this commitment, according to the Financial Times. The Gulf monarchy would inject around $13.85 billion over the next five years in the areas of technology, energy transition and UK infrastructure. In this way, the investment framework between the two, known as the UAE-UK Sovereign Investment Partnership (SIP), would grow in size and deepen an established strategic partnership at the global level.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Tuesday sent his condolences to the Conservative leader on the death of his mother. Two days later, the two leaders had time to share their views on the regional scene in the Middle East in the wake of the Afghan crisis. The fall of the Central Asian country to the Taliban forced the two countries to cooperate in an evacuation effort against the clock. The UAE played a leading role in the relocation of 28,000 people, including British citizens.
The bulk of the dialogue, however, has focused on economic cooperation ties. The former British protectorate is now one of the UK's key partners and acts as a proxy for its interests in the Gulf and the rest of the Middle East. The last time Johnson and the Crown Prince met directly was on 10 December, although this meeting had a special flavour due to the anniversary of the Abraham Accords, an alliance widely supported by London.
The meeting also coincided with a government crisis in Boris Johnson's cabinet. The wear and tear caused by the management of the pandemic and the need to recover his image, damaged according to the latest polls, has pushed the Conservative leader to relegate three of his ministers. One of those singled out has been the hitherto foreign minister, Dominic Raab, who has been replaced by Liz Truss, the second woman to hold the post in history. Raab's lacklustre role in the Afghanistan crisis, caught on holiday in Crete, explains the decision.
After the formation and independence of the United Arab Emirates in late 1971, the sheikhs normalised relations with London. Time strengthened their ties. Indeed, the UK is the only country to maintain two embassies in the UAE. One in Abu Dhabi and the other in Dubai. The relationship between the Royal Houses is fluid, although beyond the purely political nexus, cooperation in security matters stands out with the signing in 1996 of the Defence Cooperation Agreement, aimed at dealing with threats in the region.
The Emirati elite have been educated at British schools and universities. The Crown Prince himself spent his formative years at the Sandhurst military academy, as did many other Emirati leaders. The London Business School, Repton School and Cass Business School have established permanent campuses in the UAE, while 2,800 Emirati students are studying in the UK.
The world of football is another avenue for Emirati money to enter the islands. There are several cases in the Premier League, although the most prominent are Arsenal FC and Manchester City. The London club signed a contract with Emirates Airlines to sponsor the construction of its stadium worth 63 million euros. However, the takeover of the Mancunian club by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed in August 2008 sealed Emirates' interests on British soil.