BORIS Johnson's government has dropped “human rights” and the “rule of law” from its list of objectives in securing a trade deal with Gulf states.

Both issues were included during a consultation published in October on what the trade deal should achieve.

However, neither made it into the final list which was published this week.

Earlier in the week, International trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan met representatives of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in Riyadh to begin negotiations with the six-nation bloc, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE.

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Trade between the UK and the GCC is already worth £3.1 billion, with the group being the UK’s seventh largest trading partner.

The UK Government has said such a trade deal could boost the UK economy by up to £1.6bn a year.

But as ministers seek to negotiate a deal wth the Gulf states, human rights groups, trade unions and opposition parties have taken aim at the Tories for “wilfully ignoring serious human rights violations”.

During a government consulation people were asked what the UK’s priorities should be in a free trade deal with the states, including labour standards, gender equality, climate change, human rights and the rule of law.

Human rights and the rule of law were the only two items on the list not to be included in the final deal.

The Scottish Greens said successive UK governments have prioritised arms deals over human rights.

MSP Maggie Chapman told The National: "This is shocking, but it is not at all surprising. When it comes to foreign policy, especially in the Gulf region, successive UK governments have spent decades prioritising arms sales and cosy relationships with dictatorships ahead of human rights. It is telling that they don't even feel the need to pretend anymore."

"There is seemingly no low that Boris Johnson and his colleagues won't sink to in order to strengthen the brutally repressive regimes they are all too happy to do business with, or to cement the deeply damaging Brexit deal that they negotiated."

"Human rights and democracy cannot be optional. If the UK is to play any kind of positive role on the world stage then they have to be at the heart of foreign policy, as they would be in the green and independent Scotland that we want to build."

Allan Hogarth, head of policy at Amnesty International, said women in the region faced “deep-rooted discrimination” while bans on trade unions “are common”.

He said: “A UK-Gulf trade deal which remained silent on these issues would be wilfully ignoring serious human rights violations.”

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) said the UK Government should not “entertain” a trade deal with the nations without tackling human rights violations in the area.

Paul Nowak, deputy general secretary of the TUC, said: “The Gulf states’ appalling record on human rights and workers’ rights is no secret, and yet the government is rushing into trade talks, no questions asked."

The National: The UK Government is seeking new international free trade deals following BrexitThe UK Government is seeking new international free trade deals following Brexit

He accused the Tories of “turning a blind eye to fundamental rights abuses” as he urged the government to use its leverage to “ensure respect for fundamental workers’ and human rights”.

He said: “Banning trade unions, forced labour, severe exploitation of migrant workers and other labour rights abuses are all widespread – as are attacks on women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights and the oppression of marginalised communities.”

Emily Thornberry, Labour's shadow international trade secretary, said: "Yet again, we have a government acting as though human rights and the rule of law are optional extras, to be discarded at will, rather than principles and values that are fundamental to what we stand for as a country.

"It is wrong, it is immoral, and it is doing untold damage to our reputation around the world."

A Department for International Trade (DIT) source said it was wrong to say that both the rule of law and human rights had been dropped for its goals, saying their inclusion in the consultation process did not mean they would become objectives.

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A DIT spokesperson said: “The UK is a leading advocate for human rights around the world and the FCDO lead on our efforts to promote universal human rights.

“It is our experience that secure and growing trade relationships can increase UK influence and help us to open conversations with partners on a range of issues, including human rights.”

Announcing the start of negotiations, trade secretary Trevelyan said: “This trade deal has the potential to support jobs from Dover to Doha, growing our economy at home, building vital green industries and supplying innovative services to the gulf.”

It comes as the UK Government seeks new trade deals after leaving the European Union.

An analysis by the UK Trade Policy Observatory in November 2021 found that the UK’s Brexit losses were more than 178 times bigger than its likely gains from future trade deals.