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Theresa May: Gulf states' human rights record shouldn't stop stronger trade

The controversial human rights record of Gulf states should not be a bar to increased post-Brexit trade with them, Theresa May has said ahead of a high-profile visit to the Middle East.

Mrs May will be the first British Prime Minister, and first woman, to attend the Gulf Co-operation Council summit during a two-day trip to Bahrain.

With her hosts having been sharply criticised for the way they suppressed protests during the Arab Spring, Mrs May insisted closer ties will allow the UK greater influence in pushing its values.

Speaking ahead of the visit, the Prime Minister said she wants to open a new post-Brexit chapter in relations with the Gulf.

"No doubt there will be some people in the UK who say we shouldn't seek stronger trade and security ties with these countries because of their record on human rights.

"But we don't uphold our values and human rights by turning our back on this issue. We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform.

"That is how Britain can be a force for good in the world as well as helping to keep our people safe and create new opportunities for business.

"This year marks 200 years of relations between Bahrain and the United Kingdom and a century of ties with Saudi Arabia, but in recent years our relationship hasn't felt as close as it is old. I want to change that.

"There is so much we can do together - whether it is helping one another to prevent terrorist attacks, Gulf investment regenerating cities across the UK, or British businesses helping Gulf countries to achieve their long term vision of reform."

Mrs May will attend a dinner with the six leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman on Tuesday, before addressing the plenary session of the summit on Wednesday.

Trade, security and the civil wars in Syria and Yemen will feature in Mrs May's talks on the margins of the gathering, and an annual summit between the UK and the regional grouping is to be launched.

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