HEALTH Secretary Sajid Javid has defended the Prime Minister’s plan to ask Saudi Arabia to raise its oil and gas production to reduce UK reliance on Russian supplies.

Boris Johnson is reportedly set to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon in the country’s capital Riyadh amid the cost of living crisis and sky-rocketing energy costs.

It comes just a day after Saudi Arabia executed 81 men in 24 hours on charges of terrorism and “holding deviant beliefs”.

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But Javid has thrown his weight behind the PM’s plan and claimed the UK has a “very candid and frank” relationship with the Gulf state.

The invasion of Ukraine by the Kremlin has put more pressure on energy costs as the West tries to wean itself off supplies of Russian oil and gas.

The Saudi prince has been repeatedly criticised for human rights abuses and, over the weekend, the country’s state-run Saudi Press Agency announced the executions of 81 people convicted of a variety of crimes, marking the largest mass execution conducted there in recent memory.

Meanwhile, Javid said the country is an “important” economic partner.

The National:

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon outside No 10 in October 2021

He told LBC: “We’ve had a long-standing relationship with the Saudi government where there’s always a very frank exchange.

“We don’t agree with our approach on human rights – we’re always right to call that out and to talk to them, frankly, about that.

“At the same time, it is also possible to have an economic relationship.

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“You know, whether people like it or not, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer of crude oil and it’s important, especially at the time of a major global energy crisis, that we have these talks with them.”

Javid told Times Radio “when it comes to human rights there’s a lot we disagree on” with the Saudis.

“And the executions that you just referred to (are) clearly things that we would not support,” he said.

The National:

Javid has defended the PM's planned visit to the Gulf state

“But that said, it is an important country, especially when it comes to energy supplies and in terms of (an) economic relationship, and it is right that we’re continuing to talk.”

Speaking on Sky News, he added: “We’re not dependent directly as a country on their oil but energy prices and access to energy is a hugely important issue.”

The Prime Minister is hoping his personal relationship with the Saudi price will help start a conversation about Gulf states supplying more oil and gas, The Times reported on Saturday.

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Earlier this year, Amnesty International UK chief executive Sacha Deshmukh warned that “under Mohammed bin Salman the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia has become increasingly repressive”.

The organisation’s intervention came after Newcastle United travelled to Saudi Arabia for a mid-season training camp in January.

The country’s Public Investment Fund – of which the prince is chairman – owns an 80% stake of the consortium which owns the football club.

The National:

Newcastle boss Eddie Howe (above) refused to comment on the Saudi political situation over the weekend.

“I’m just going to answer questions on the game and on football,” he said. “It’s only right that I stick to football.”

However, Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel questioned the Premier League’s ownership tests.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has had all of his UK assets frozen – except for the club, which is allowed to operate with restrictions – in the wake of Downing Street claiming to have proven the Russian-Israeli billionaire’s links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose forces invaded Ukraine on February 24.

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The attack led to sanctions being placed on Russia and a number of oligarchs, including Abramovich.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK’s Foreign Affairs Human Rights Adviser, said: “The shocking news about mass executions in Saudi Arabia makes it more important than ever that the Prime Minister challenges the Saudi authorities over their absolutely appalling human rights record and that he speaks publicly about human rights during this trip.

“In particular, Boris Johnson should raise the need for Saudi Arabia to end its repression of human rights defenders – including by releasing prisoners of conscience and ensuring that lengthy travel bans are lifted for people like Loujain al-Hathloul and Raif Badawi.

“Understandably much of the world’s attention is currently focused on Ukraine, but Saudi Arabia mustn’t be allowed a free pass over the civilians being killed by Saudi coalition airstrikes in Yemen.

“The key point is that Saudi oil shouldn’t be allowed to buy the world’s silence over Saudi Arabia’s terrible human rights record.”