Despite a wave of controversy, the UK says relations with Saudi Arabia are “business as usual”

UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond has dismissed the recent controversy about Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, saying it is “business as usual,” in an interview with Al-Arabiya,

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s main trading partner in the Middle East, with $17.5 billion in joint ventures and 30,000 UK nationals living in the country. But the relationship between the two countries has been strained recently by high-profile controversies about human rights violations and a scandal at the United Nations.

Media reports revealed in September that the two countries struck a deal to get each other elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council by exchanging money and votes. Saudi Arabia has a notoriously problematic human rights record, including beheadings and torture.

During his last visit to Riyadh, Hammond secured the release of UK citizen Karl Andree, who was jailed for being caught with homemade wine, and sentenced to 360 lashes—a punishment that was ultimately not carried out.

“We have a very open frank relationship, based on a very strong relationship in areas of trade, defence and security collaboration that allows us to talk about areas of concern, perhaps sensitive issues,” said Hammond of Andree’s release.

Hammond has also weighed in on the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a young Saudi Arabian Shia activist who was sentenced to death last year, and is due to be executed by beheading, followed by the mounting of his headless body onto a crucifix for public viewing. Amid protests in support of al-Nimr in Britain, Hammond told Parliament last month: “I do not expect Mr. al-Nimr to be executed.”

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