BRITAIN’S close relationship with Saudi Arabia saves British lives, Theresa May said yesterday in a staunch defence of rolling out the red carpet for its Crown Prince.
Referring to intelligence sharing, she said: “The link we have has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people.”
In a major breakthrough, Mrs May also convinced Mohammad bin Salman to drop a blockade preventing aid reaching Yemen.
This had been the major cause of protests against the prince’s three-day trip, which included lunch with the Queen yesterday.
On the royal’s first day in London, the PM also struck £65billion worth of trade and investment deals.
Meanwhile, No10 slapped down Jeremy Corbyn for falsely accusing the Government of “colluding” with Saudi war crimes.
Here, we take a closer look at the controversial reformer prince:
When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s father visited Japan last year he descended from his private jet on a golden escalator.
Arriving in London yesterday the prince, credited with dragging Saudi Arabia into the 21st century, made do with the usual airline steps.
The man known as MBS has pledged to do things differently in the oil-rich, ultra-conservative nation that is a byword for religious extremism, human rights abuses and corruption.
Hence Britain laying on the bells-and-whistles three-day state visit for the heir, who already effectively rules Saudi — a key trade and defence ally.
Whitehall sees MBS as a radical reformer willing to face down Saudi’s old guard — and, crucially, become an even bigger trade partner after Brexit.
His sweeping changes include allowing women to drive and go to football matches, and lifting a ban on cinemas.
He has also clamped down on corruption among the Saudi elite and called for religious moderation.
But the 32-year-old is also the architect of Saudi’s blood-drenched Yemen war — using British and American-supplied weapons — that has claimed at least 10,000 civilian lives.
To hail his arrival in Britain, the Saudis have bombarded London with a feelgood advertising campaign. Motorway billboards picture a regal-looking MBS in traditional red and white headdress, and insist: “He’s bringing change to Saudi Arabia.”
Taxis and lorries were emblazoned with his image and the hashtag “Welcome Saudi Crown Prince”. The Times carried an ad showing the Union and Saudi flags with the caption “United Kingdoms”.
Yet the Saudi media-spinners could do nothing about the protesters.
They gathered outside No10 to vent their fury at Saudi military action in famine-blighted Yemen, which has included the blockade of rebel-held ports, preventing life-saving aid.
They were unaware that inside, the Prime Minister was convincing the prince to drop the blockade and allow in humanitarian help.
Earlier, Rob Williams, chief executive at charity War Child UK said: “Britain is complicit in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen through providing diplomatic support to Saudi Arabia, as well as selling our most hi-tech and deadly weapons.”
But who is MBS? And are his reforms just another mirage from the crucible of Islamism that produced 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers? Born in the capital Riyadh to the third wife of the now-King Salman, the young prince studied law in his homeland before becoming personal aide to his father.
When Salman, now 82, became king in 2015, MBS was appointed Minister for Defence.
After Iran-backed Houthi rebels took over Sanaa, the biggest city in neighbouring Yemen, he hit back with air strikes and the naval blockade. Meanwhile, the rebels have fired ballistic missiles deep in to Saudi Arabia.
Experts say Iran wants Yemen, where lawless areas are also home to al-Qaeda, to become a “Saudi Vietnam”.
Meanwhile, although Saudi does not recognise the state of Israel, the two countries have forged behind-the-scenes diplomatic and intelligence links to confront enemy Iran.
But with the declining health of his father, MBS has also taken up the reins beyond issues of defence and has begun sweeping changes. His aim is to liberalise Saudi society and end it’s “addiction” to oil.
His economic plans include a new business zone bigger than Wales and luring tourist bucks.
He has also urged moderation in religion in a conservative nation dominated by the severe Wahhabi strand of Islam for decade.
Last year the prince announced: “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.
“We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today. We will end extremism very soon.”
Then in November came a “purge” of fellow princes, ministers, businessmen and senior civil servants accused of corruption.
Yet a month later MBS was criticised for extravagance, after it emerged he was the buyer of “the world’s most expensive home” — a £225million French chateau.
Chateau Louis XIV, which sits in a 57-acre landscaped park near Versailles, boasts two ballrooms and a moat featuring an underwater “meditation room” with views of the resident sturgeon. There is also a gold-leafed fountain which can be controlled by iPhone.
And in 2015 MBS reportedly bought a 440ft yacht from a Russian vodka tycoon for £360million, on a whim after spotting it at sea.
He is also said to be the buyer of , which sold for £342million late last year, the highest price ever paid for a painting. And amid all this lavish spending, charities have hit out at continued human rights abuses under MBS.
Charity Reprieve says that the number of executions has doubled under his rule.
And Amnesty International claims reforms in Saudi Arabia were “largely a mirage”.
It said “peaceful critics” of the government were still being thrown in jail and women still have to get permission from men if they want to travel, be educated or get a job.
This week Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry wrote that the prince’s three-day visit proved the Government “doesn’t care a jot about human rights”.
The Labour MP added: “This is the man behind the rolling blockade of Yemen’s rebel-held ports, preventing the supply of essential food, medicine and fuel to Yemeni civilians, and — on all the available evidence — breaching international law by using starvation as a weapon of war.”
Mrs May said before meeting MBS that she will make clear to him that, “We urgently need to see progress on the political track, which is ultimately the only way to end the conflict and humanitarian suffering in Yemen”.
She also said: “We are seeing reforms in Saudi Arabia and encourage it.”
Post-Brexit Britain wants to be at the front of the queue as Saudi petro dollars are invested more widely.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir said this week: “We’re bullish about Britain. Our countries have relied on each other in many areas and I don’t expect this to change [after Brexit] I expect this to increase and to become even stronger.”
Britain’s red carpet is unlikely to be tugged from under MBS’s feet any time soon.