A diplomatic push to repair a recent deterioration in relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia is underway by Prime Minister David Cameron. The move follows concerns that the Gulf state's ambassador sought to leave London earlier this week in an apparent objection at the country's treatment.
Saudi ambassador, Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz was set to take a "temporary leave of absence" while an extensive review of Saudi-UK relations took place, according to the Daily Telegraph. Writing for the news organisation last week, Abdulaziz voiced "alarm" at the rhetoric used when discussing Saudi Arabia in the UK. The oil-rich state is also said to be angry over the cancellation of a £5.9m ($9m) prisons contact with Britain earlier this month, as well as criticism over Riyadh's human rights record.
The UK government considers Saudi Arabia to be a key ally, both for security and economic reasons and attempts have been made by Cameron and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to ease the strained relations. The Saudi ambassador is poised to stay in London as talks between the two sides continue.
"It appears that the Saudis believe that they are being treated like a political football and had enough," a Whitehall source told the Telegraph. "It was only after the personal intervention of the prime minister that the situation has temporarily cooled but the Saudis want assurances."
Last week, Abdulaziz wrote: "One recent example of this mutual respect being breached was when Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Opposition, claimed that he had convinced Prime Minister David Cameron to cancel a prison consultancy contract with Saudi Arabia worth £5.9 million. This coincided with speculation linking the contract's cancellation to a number of domestic events in the Kingdom."
He continued: "If the extensive trade links between the two countries are going to be subordinate to certain political ideologies, then this vital commercial exchange is going to be at risk. We want this relationship to continue but we will not be lectured to by anyone. Hasty decisions prompted by short-term gains often do more harm than good in the longer term."
Saudi Arabia is the UK's largest trading partner in the Middle East, with Downing Street identifying the country as a "priority market". The UK is also Saudi Arabia's main arms supplier, providing the Kingdom with 36% of its total munitions import.
In recent months, there has been outrage over Saudi Arabia's human rights, in particular over the planned execution and crucifixion of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was arrested when he was 17-years-old for taking part in a protest. There was also outcry in the case of 74-year-old Karl Andree, who was imprisoned for a year and sentenced to 350 lashes after he was arrested for possessing homemade wine, which is illegal in Saudi Arabia.
In an interview where he was strongly challenged to explain the UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia, Cameron eventually answered after unsuccessfully attempting to digress. "We have a relationship with Saudi Arabia and if you want to know why I'll tell you why," the prime minister said.
"It is because we receive from them important intelligence and security information that keeps us safe. But, the reason we have the relationship is our own national security. I can think of one occasion since I've been prime minister where a bomb that would have potentially blown up over Britain was stopped because of intelligence we got from Saudi Arabia," he added.