The energy crisis is pushing London and Doha closer than ever

Sébastien Boussois
By Sébastien Boussois

Doctor in political science, specialist in Euro-Arab relations, with the Cecid (Free University of Brussels), author of "United Arab Emirates, conquering the world" (Max Milo editions).

Posted on Monday, 30 May 2022 18:01

British PM Johnson meets the Emir of Qatar Al Thani at Downing Street
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at Downing Street in London, Britain May 24, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Qatar hopes to take advantage of Brexit to strengthen its bilateral relationship, as the emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani said during a visit to the British capital on 24 May.

Qataris revere two cities in Europe, in the geographical sense: Paris and London. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani began a European tour that took him to the British capital on 24 May, following a trip to Madrid. He met with the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, but also with Queen Elizabeth II. The establishment of an important strategic partnership, worth $10bn, will follow.

The long and deep relationship with London goes back not only to the time of British colonisation in the Gulf but also after independence, thanks in particular to the Qataris’ strong taste for British chic, the London way of life and the City. Already in 2013, Doha had committed to invest nearly £10bn in the UK in a number of infrastructure projects. This mainly concerned nuclear facilities, but also gas power stations and wind power projects.

At the time, the British government was pursuing an austerity policy that prevented it from modernising its energy stock. Qatar’s offer came at the right time. From Harrod’s, the great British delicatessen, to the construction of the Shard, the impressive skyscraper that is now the tallest building in Europe, Doha has made itself indispensable to the British economy.

Defence contracts

In 2017, the emirate showed renewed interest in continuing to invest in a Britain that was heading towards Brexit and leaving the European Union.

Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund was firmly positioned to invest in a number of areas such as infrastructure, health and new technologies. In the same year, in the midst of the Gulf crisis that would isolate the country from the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Doha bought no less than 24 British fighter planes to modernise its army and ensure its security.

This was one of the first major defence contracts in history between the two countries.

Since then, relations have continued with deepen. Recently, Qatar said it was ready to help the UK with the global crisis in the “European” economic and energy sector, but “the West must take responsibility”, it said.

Energy was indeed on the agenda of the Emir of Qatar’s recent visit, especially in a context where all of Europe is seeking to reduce its dependence on Russian gas. For example, Qatari Energy Minister Saad Sherida Al Kaabi said that Western countries, including the UK, were facing the consequences of their desire to eliminate carbon emissions in order to combat climate change by “demonising oil and gas companies”.

In an interview with Sky News, Al Kaabi noted that his country was ready to support the UK in its cost of living crisis. But European rhetoric needs to change: years of pushing for an urgent halt to fossil fuel production and labelling gas producers as “bad guys” have contributed to the current crisis, he argued.

Green transition

While the energy transition cannot be questioned in the long term, the urgency of the situation is to supply gas to EU members, and to Britain to counter Russia. The recent surge in oil and energy prices in Europe and beyond is not entirely due to the Russian and Ukrainian crisis, but goes back several years.

The objective of Qatar, which has left OPEC and is banking on the FPEG (Forum of Gas Exporting Countries), is undoubtedly also to minimise the historically all-powerful role of Saudi Arabia and the regular yo-yoing of prices that Riyadh imposes on the world by increasing or reducing its production, particularly of oil. It should be remembered that last February, Qatar, in hosting the 6th annual summit with its thirteen members, did not pit the urgency of energy security against the green transition.

In the United Kingdom, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Qatar Energy and the British Department of Trade, Energy and Industrial Strategy: it aims to strengthen energy cooperation between the Gulf country and the UK. The move is also seen as a way to expand cooperation on energy security, renewables and decarbonisation.

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