Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at annual CMEC gala lunch
News / Analysis 19 Oct 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at annual CMEC gala lunch

CMEC was delighted to host the Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Theresa May MP, as guest of honour at its Annual Gala Lunch on the 10th of October 2017.

The Prime Minister paid tribute to CMEC for the crucial work it does in fostering ties between Britain and the Middle East in the following speech:

Your Royal Highness, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here at my first Conservative Middle East Council Gala as Prime Minister.

I want to start by paying tribute to CMEC.

For almost four decades you have worked hard to ensure that Conservative foreign policy-making is grounded in a deep and thorough understanding of the Middle East – its rich cultures, complex history and great economic potential for the future. 

This work has always been invaluable, but today – as the United Kingdom prepares to forge a new role for ourselves in the world – the job of strengthening links with old friends and new allies alike has never been more vital.

And the Middle East is a part of the world where the United Kingdom has a great many old friends.

Across the region, from Jordan to the Gulf, we enjoy some of our most enduring and important international partnerships. Among the highlights of my first year as Prime Minister were my visit to Jordan and Saudi Arabia in April and addressing the Gulf Co-operation Council in Manama late last year.

As I said then, in the face of growing extremism and radicalisation; in the face of threats to the rules-based order which has underpinned our shared security and prosperity: we must reaffirm our longstanding relationships and renew them afresh for the future. The vast majority of the victims of extremist terrorism are in the Middle East, but British cities are on the front line too, as we have seen over the last year.

By focusing not just on violent extremism, but on the whole spectrum of extremism, violent and non-violent, at home and abroad, we are working to address the causes of the threat by targeting the ideology of extremism and all those who seek to spread it. This needs concerted international action. So we are working with our allies in the region, establishing a new Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism and Border Security and a new National Security Dialogue with members of the GCC.

And last month, at the United Nations General Assembly, I led discussions on tackling the cyber threat of terrorism – the first such discussion ever held at the UN. Countries around the world are now taking this issue seriously, and – crucially – the internet companies are starting to take action to tackle the problem. We must keep up the pressure to see that they follow through on their commitments.

The UK is also investing in our defence capability in the Middle East. Over £3 billion of UK defence spending is going into in the region over the next decade.

Working with our allies in the Kingdom of Bahrain, we will this year re-commission the naval base HMS Jufair, Britain’s first permanent defence presence east of Suez since 1971. And a new regional land training hub in Oman will also establish a permanent British army presence in the region.

The UK’s strong defence and security commitments in the Middle East are matched by our deep commercial and economic interests.Generating greater prosperity for the British people and the people of the Middle East is in the common interest of all sides. Helping all of our peoples to live happier and fuller lives, with greater economic security, is the best way ensure that peace and stability can be maintained in the future.

Last year alone, trade between the UK and the Gulf states alone was worth more than £30 billion. I am determined that we should do everything possible to build on this and to elevate our trade and investment to an even more ambitious level.

So we will continue to make London one of the world’s great capitals of Islamic finance. And as Britain leaves the European Union, I want to leave no-one in any doubt about the scale of my ambition or the extent of my determination to establish the strongest possible trading relationships between the UK and the Gulf, and the region as a whole. Our close relationship also allows us to continue to support internal reform programmes, such as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which have begun to transform societies across the Middle East. The recent decision by King Salman to lift the ban on women driving is something I warmly welcome. It has been recognised as a significant development and welcomed across the world. 

Of course the even stronger partnership we seek to build will best be served if the GCC maintains its integrity, which is so important for the region.The current standoff in the Gulf is deeply destabilising. It is in everyone’s interest for the situation to be resolved as soon as possible and I have been engaging with all sides to urge them to restore GCC unity at the earliest opportunity. That is the only way that they can tackle the common threats they face. And the Middle East does continue to face considerable challenges.

In particular, we must continue to work together with our friends and allies to achieve a just and comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, building on efforts such as the Arab Peace Initiative and harnessing the influence of all the regional powers to bring together those with a stake in a lasting peace, built around a two-state solution.

I know this is a cause dear to the hearts of CMEC members. Achieving this outcome remains fundamental to the long-term security and prosperity of the whole Middle East and is a central priority for the UK Government.

Indeed the Council takes a lively interest in many of the crucial political issues facing the region and the wider world. Your commitment to the region, and to strengthening the links between the Middle East and the UK do you enormous credit. You strengthen relationships, so that together we can tackle the great security, economic and social challenges of our time.

All of you here who have sponsored this event, and contributed to CMEC over the years, have contributed to this important work.

I hope you will continue to offer that help and support in the years to come.

Thank you.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP, The Prime Minister