Boris Johnson has declined to say whether his trip to Saudi Arabia will result in a boost to the kingdom’s oil production – as he insisted his talks about its human rights record would be “kept private”.
The prime minister visited both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday as he continues his push to lessen Western reliance on Russian oil and gas following Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine.
Mr Johnson has railed against the West’s “addiction” to Russian energy and called on allies to help deliver a further financial blow to Mr Putin’s regime by reducing their consumption of Kremlin-controlled supplies.
A spike in oil and gas prices has also exasperated concerns over a cost of living crisis in the UK.
However, in seeking to persuade Middle Eastern nations to boost their own energy production as the West looks to move away from Moscow, Mr Johnson has faced accusations of turning from one oppressive regime to others with their own poor human rights records.
Speaking in Saudi capital Riyadh on Wednesday evening, Mr Johnson was coy about whether his talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – which lasted around an hour and 45 minutes – had resulted in any progress over the kingdom increasing its own oil production.
“We discussed everything that you would expect, so I raised human rights, but we also talked about what we can do to stabilise oil prices, to fight inflation, to help consumers, to help people at the gas pumps, at the petrol pumps,” he said.
“A lot of agreement that it’s important to avoid inflation, to avoid the damaging economic consequences, an agreement that we need to work together to bring peace to Ukraine.
“I thanked the Saudis for what they’re doing – they joined the UN resolution in condemning what Russia has done. Both agreed that we need to see an end to Putin’s war.”
After his “productive conversation” with the crown prince, the PM added there was “an interest for Saudi Arabia – for all oil-producing and exporting countries – in making sure that the global economy is not damaged by the current spikes, that we don’t get the kind of inflation that we saw in the 1970s, we don’t see the stagflation”.
But, asked if this meant an agreement had been reached on oil production, Mr Johnson replied: “I think you need to talk to the Saudis about that, but I think there was a… there was an understanding of the need to ensure stability in global oil markets and gas markets and the need to avoid damaging price spikes.
“And a strong global economy, a strong UK economy, which we’ve got, continuing with a strong UK economy, is very much in the interests of the oil-producing countries as well.”
The PM had faced calls to cancel his trip to Saudi following the kingdom’s recent mass execution of 81 men on a single day.
The Saudi crown prince has also been largely shunned by the West since the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which he is accused of having ordered.
Just over three years ago, Mr Johnson himself described the killing of Mr Khashoggi as “barbaric act” and suggested the Saudi state had “copied the playbook of Vladimir Putin” with the “ostentatious horror of this murder”.
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However, the PM refused to reveal what he had discussed about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record during his talks with the kingdom’s crown prince on Wednesday.
“I always raise human rights issues, as British prime ministers before me have done time after time,” he said.
“It’s best if the details of those conversations are kept private, they’re more effective that way.
“But I think you can also see that in spite of that news you’ve referred to today, things are changing in Saudi Arabia, we want to see them continue to change.
“And that’s why we see value in engaging with Saudi Arabia and why we see value in the partnership.”
Mr Johnson also declined to say whether he expressed displeasure at recent events in Saudi, adding: “I expressed the longstanding view of the UK government, as you would expect.”