The Other Special Relationship: Britain and the UAE

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 12 September 2021. © Richard Kemp

Here in Britain there has been great concern about ruptures to the UK-US special relationship following the catastrophic unilateral US withdrawal from Afghanistan and US President Joe Biden’s intransigence over the emergency evacuation from Kabul.

Another long-term special relationship enjoyed by Britain — with the United Arab Emirates — was also affected by events in Afghanistan, but in a positive direction. A few days ago, Britain’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi said the evacuation of UK citizens from Kabul was made possible by the assistance of the UAE who provided a staging airport as well as support from across government ministries.

In Dubai recently, I again witnessed the ever-growing miracle of engineering, finance and enterprise that has bloomed in the Arabian Desert, aided not least by Britain’s unique connections with the territory and its people since the early 1800s — a century and a half before the formation of the Emirates as we know them today. Around 200,000 Britons live in the UAE and more than a million visit each year, for business or tourism. The UAE is Britain’s largest trading partner in the Middle East, and the UK is the UAE’s third biggest partner in non-oil commodities trade. Britain is one of the largest investors in the UAE, which also has many major investments here.

Beyond mutual economic benefits, Britain and the UAE have shared geopolitical interests that echo back 80 years to the decades when Britain helped defend the land against those who wanted to seize it for themselves. UAE forces — which had their origins in the British-led Trucial Oman Scouts — fought with the US coalition in the 1990-91 Gulf War and with NATO in Kosovo. The UAE was the only Arab nation that deployed troops into Afghanistan during the 20-year campaign, conducting combat operations alongside other coalition (more…)

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