British Prime Minister Theresa May is in Bahrain to meet with the leaders of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states on the sidelines of the annual GCC Summit on Dec. 6-7. May, who took office in July in the aftermath of the Brexit vote and Prime Minister David Cameron’s subsequent resignation, is the first British prime minister to attend the GCC summit—and only the second Western leader to be invited to do so, after France’s Francois Hollande.
Nearly six months on from Brexit, the mechanics and timeframe for Britain’s formal process of withdrawal from the European Union remain unresolved and, given their complexity, perhaps unresolvable. Against the backdrop of mounting political uncertainty over both the nature of Britain’s future relations with European partners and its place in the world after Brexit, government ministers have identified the GCC as a surer bet for trade and investment deals.
Since taking office in 2010, initially in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Cameron’s Conservative government focused heavily on building up economic and commercial relationships with the Gulf states and rebuilding historical ties that were perceived to have suffered during the 13 years of Labour government, from 1997 to 2010, under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Indeed, Cameron’s first overseas visit as prime minister in 2010 was to the United Arab Emirates, which was followed by a bilateral UAE-U.K. taskforce. Cameron lobbied the UAE intensively in an ultimately futile attempt to secure a Typhoon fighter contract for BAE Systems, as well as BP’s participation in the renewal of Abu Dhabi’s lucrative onshore oil concession. The British government also launched a government review of the Muslim Brotherhood under reportedly heavy pressure from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which both officially designated the group a terrorist organizations in March 2014.