I am delighted to be here in Manama, following in the footsteps of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in celebrating 2 centuries of relations between Bahrain and the United Kingdom. And I am very grateful to His Majesty King Hamad for bestowing on me this special honour – to be invited to address the leaders of the Gulf Co-operation Council.
We meet at a time of great change in the world. Political change, economic change, social change; in almost every sphere we are confronted with change and uncertainty.
The risks to our shared security are growing and evolving, as terrorists operate across national borders to plot attacks against our people; as new threats emerge from the malevolent use of the internet, and as certain states continue to act in ways that undermine stability in your region – undermining, in turn, our own security in the West and further reinforcing the need for all of us to work together.
We, in the West, face the challenge of trying to manage those forces of globalisation that have in recent times left some of our people behind.
Here in the Gulf you, too, are facing the challenges of securing jobs and opportunities for your peoples and building what I call an economy that works for everyone.
In this uncertain world, people are searching for direction and leadership and we have a responsibility to provide it. I believe it is more than a responsibility. For if we work together, it is also an unparalleled opportunity to show that we understand the scale of the change people need; understand truly what lies behind it; and most importantly of all; that we as leaders are trusted to deliver.
One of the prevailing sentiments in all my conversations with GCC leaders over the last 5 months since I became Prime Minister has been this sense that in challenging times, you turn to your oldest and most dependable friends.
That is the spirit in which I come here today.
We have a rich history on which to build. From the very first treaties, in the mid-17th century, which saw the East India Company reach agreements on British trade and a military presence in Oman, to our deep partnership as Cold War allies, the UK has been proudly at the forefront of a relationship between the Gulf and the West that has been the bedrock of our shared prosperity and security.
And as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, I am determined that we should seize the opportunity to get out into the world and to shape an even bigger global role for my country: yes, to build new alliances but more importantly, to go even further in working with old friends, like our allies here in the Gulf, who have stood alongside us for centuries.
There has never been a more important, or more challenging time to do so. In the face of growing extremism and radicalisation, not unique to this region but here in its most egregious form; in the face of threats to the rules-based order which has underpinned not just our shared security but also the foundations for our shared prosperity, the UK stands here today seeking not just to reaffirm a relationship that is of great historic value but to renew a partnership that is absolutely fundamental to our shared future.
So in accepting the honour of addressing GCC leaders, I seek not just to offer a message of continuity, but to begin to build a bold new chapter in our co-operation; not to develop a transactional relationship but rather to forge a strategic relationship, a relationship based on true partnership and an enduring commitment between our countries and our peoples; a relationship through which together we can meet these great challenges to our shared security and prosperity, and grab this opportunity to build an exciting future for the generations that follow us.
So let me set out some of the ways in which the UK will step up its relationship with the GCC. And let me start with security.
Gulf security is our security
Gulf security is our security. Extremists plotting terror attacks here in this region are not only targeting the Gulf but, as we have seen, targeting the streets of Europe too. Whether we are confronting the terrorism of Al Qaeda or the murderous barbarity of Daesh, no country is a more committed partner for you in this fight than the United Kingdom.
Today UK servicemen and women are putting their lives on the line at the heart of the international mission against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. We are making progress. And as we are seeing with the current operations in Mosul, the days of Daesh as an occupying force are numbered.
Through our close co-operation on counter-terrorism we are succeeding in foiling terrorist plots and a range of threats against citizens in all our countries. For example, intelligence we have received in the past from Saudi Arabia has saved potentially hundreds of lives in the UK.
And by focusing not just on violent extremism, but on the whole spectrum of extremism, violent and non-violent, at home and abroad, we are not just going after the terrorists but working to address the causes of this terrorist threat by targeting the ideology of extremism and all those who seek to spread it.
As we address new threats to our security, so we must also continue to confront state actors whose influence fuels instability in the region. So I want to assure you that I am clear-eyed about the threat that Iran poses to the Gulf and the wider Middle East.
The UK is fully committed to our strategic partnership with the Gulf and working with you to counter that threat. We secured a deal which has neutralised the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons for over a decade. It has already seen Iran remove 13,000 centrifuges together with associated infrastructure and eliminate its stock of 20% enriched uranium. That was vitally important for regional security. But we must also work together to push back against Iran’s aggressive regional actions, whether in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Syria or in the Gulf itself.
We must also continue to work together 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 of us around this table to bring together those with a stake in a lasting peace, built around a 2-state solution. This remains fundamental to the long-term security and prosperity of the whole Middle East.
In recent years we have retained the ability to defend our mutual interests when threatened by deploying UK assets to the region, as we did when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and as we are continuing to do with HMS Ocean – which I visited yesterday – as it begins its deployment here in Bahrain.
But as part of the renewed relationship that I want to forge with you, the United Kingdom will make a more permanent and more enduring commitment to the long-term security of the Gulf.
We will invest in hard power, with over £3 billion of defence spending in the region over the next decade, spending more on defence in the Gulf than in any other region of the world.
Through the construction of HMS Jufair, and thanks to the generosity of the Kingdom of Bahrain, we will create a permanent presence in the region, the first such facility east of Suez since 1971, with more British warships, aircraft and personnel deployed on operations in the Gulf than in any other part of the world.
At the same time, a regional land training hub in Oman is establishing a permanent British army presence in the region. And I am delighted to announce that Saif Sareea 3 will take place in Oman in 2018 – the largest UK-Omani exercise for 15 years.
We will also go further in deepening our defence co-operation through a new Strategic Partnership between the UK and the GCC, supporting the development of your defence capacity and capability, including for humanitarian operations and crisis response planning.
As part of this we will establish a new British Defence Staff in Dubai to co-ordinate our regional activities and, here in Bahrain, we will embed a dedicated military officer with the Ministry of Interior bomb disposal unit to provide bomb scene management support and training.
We will establish a new Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism and Border Security and a new National Security Dialogue at GCC level to protect critical national infrastructure, facilitate faster intelligence sharing on suspected foreign terrorist fighters and implement traveller screening systems to detect terrorists attempting to pass through any GCC airport.
And because we know that our enemies are increasingly using the internet against us, we will use our expertise in cyber security technologies to build our resilience, and that of our international partners.
So we are appointing world-leading cyber experts with extensive backgrounds in delivering cyber security in the UK to provide focused advice to Gulf States on developing your own capacity – as well as a new Cyber Industry Representative based in the region who will build links between cyber sectors in the UK and the Gulf.
In all of these ways, I am determined that the UK will be at the forefront of a wider Western effort to step up our defence and security partnership. Not just to provide greater stability and security to the region but also to protect the rules-based order that has been so fundamental to our shared prosperity.
When I think of the growth of this region over the past 50 years, from the transformation of Dubai to the position of the Gulf as the UK’s third largest export market, I never forget that the bedrock of this prosperity and stability has been the relationship between the Gulf and the West.
Now, in this period of uncertainty, is the time to recommit to this relationship. That is why I am here – to signal my commitment to this relationship and to build on the foundations of our continued partnership in security and prosperity for decades to come.
Your prosperity is our prosperity
For just as Gulf security is our security, so your prosperity is also our prosperity.
Already the Gulf is a special market for the United Kingdom. Last year alone, trade between the UK and GCC was worth more than £30 billion.
At the same time Gulf investment in the UK is helping to regenerate cities from Aberdeen to Teeside, and from Manchester to London.
I am determined that we should do everything possible to build on this and elevate our trade and investment to an even more ambitious level.
So I will continue the work that the UK has been leading over the past 3 years to make London one of the great capitals of Islamic finance anywhere in the world. And as Britain leaves the European Union so we intend to take a leap forward, to look outwards and seek to become the most committed and most passionate advocate of free trade in the world.
For free trade makes us all richer. It creates jobs. It increases investment. It improves productivity. It transforms living standards and creates opportunities for all of our citizens.
And nowhere is that more important than here with our friends and allies in the Gulf.
So first, I am delighted that we agreed yesterday to set up a new Joint Working Group to examine how we can unblock remaining barriers to trade and take steps to further liberalise our economies for the benefit of our mutual prosperity.
For example, we have just reached a new agreement with Saudi Arabia to allow British businesses to obtain 5-year multiple entry visas for the first time, creating new opportunities for more bilateral business. And we have agreed that in March next year, the UK will host an event on Gulf national transformation and economic diversification plans at the Mansion House – for centuries, a home of finance and trade at the heart of the City of London.
These steps are exactly the sort of measures that we can pursue together to advance everything that is possible from business and trade for the benefit of all of our economies and therefore all of our citizens.
Second, I can confirm that the UK will take part in Dubai’s Expo 2020 continuing the tradition started in Britain with The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in Hyde Park in 1851.
Dubai 2020 will offer an enormous commercial opportunity. There will be over 180 nations taking part with more than 25 million visitors expected – from the world’s top business leaders to its biggest investors. It is an opportunity which I am determined we should seize together.
And third, I want these talks at official level to pave the way for an ambitious trade arrangement for when the UK has left the EU. And I want us to be imaginative about the scale and reach of this.
I want us to explore whether in this dynamic and diverse market, we could forge a new trade arrangement for the whole of the Gulf area.
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.
Building societies that work for all
Just as we take every possible step to break down the barriers that are restricting our trade and prosperity; it is also important that we continue the work to bring our peoples together and to ensure that the benefits of greater prosperity are shared by all.
In Britain I have talked about the need to create a country that works for everyone.
In doing so, I have set out Britain’s great global opportunity to lead the way in managing the unintended negative forces of globalisation so that large segments of our society are not left behind; and so we restore trust between citizens and institutions.
Just as we face some major economic and social challenges in the West, so in your own economies you also face the challenge of helping to secure jobs and opportunities for your peoples.
We all recognise that there is some way to go before we can say that these economies really work for everyone. But I have been encouraged by recent economic and social reforms you have taken forward and by the bold vision set out by all of the Gulf States for more fundamental and lasting change, most recently with Saudi Arabia’s vision for 2030.
We in the UK are determined to continue to be your partner of choice as you embed international norms and see through the reforms which are so essential for all of your people.
And this is only possible because the strength of the relationship between our countries, and the respect that we have for each other, enables us to speak frankly and honestly as friends.
Together we can meet the challenges of these changing times and secure greater prosperity and security. But to do so will require more than an occasional meeting or a visit every few years. It will require a strengthening of relationships between our countries at every level.
So I look forward to the next chapter of the Manama Dialogue run by the UK’s International Institute for Strategic Studies which the Foreign Secretary will attend later this week.
This vital strategic relationship between the UK and the Gulf – a partnership steeped in so much history and so full of potential for our future – now demands even more concentrated efforts.
That is why I want to continue the hugely positive discussions we are having this week in this first ever UK-GCC dialogue at leader level.
I am delighted that you have agreed to make this an annual event. And I look forward to welcoming you to London next year.
In the face of some of the greatest challenges to our security and our prosperity, we will succeed together. We will succeed through our continued commitment to the rules-based order on which our prosperity has been built. And we will succeed by deepening our security co-operation, expanding our trade and working harder than ever to build economies and societies that work for everyone.
I believe there has never been a more important moment for us to get this right. And under my leadership, Britain will play its full part in delivering on that vision.