Since its foundation in 1971 the United Kingdom has been a trusted and valued friend of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). During the volatile recent history of the region, the UAE has striven to be a source of stability, economic growth and innovation.
Today there is a thriving bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom covering economic, strategic and cultural interests.
Figures released by the UK’s Office for National Statistics on 31st October show that bilateral trade between the UAE and UK reached £12.36 billion (AED 72bn) in 2013. This means that the £12 billion (AED 70bn) target for 2015, which the two governments set in 2009, has been met and surpassed two years ahead of the deadline.
When the target was set in late 2009, bilateral trade stood at £7.5 billion a year. So great strides have been made in a very short time.
The increase has been achieved across a wide range of sectors including energy, financial and professional services, education, healthcare and infrastructure, as well as defence and aerospace.
The UAE-UK Business Council, which was created in 2011, took the lead in working towards this target. The Business Council’s mission is to increase bilateral trade and investment, and to help and encourage UK companies do business in the UAE and vice versa, and to identify opportunities for UK/UAE cooperation in third markets.
Economy and Trade Relations
There are over 100,000 British citizens resident in the UAE and around 50,000 Emiratis visit the UK each year. There are approximately 170 flights each week between the UAE and the UK, operated by British Airways, Etihad Airways, and Emirates. Over 1 million British visitors travel to the UAE annually.
The UAE is the UK’s 14th largest market for exports worldwide and, valued at in excess of £3.2 billion in 2009, by far the biggest in the Middle East and North Africa. Imports from the UAE into the UK were valued at over £1 billion in 2009.
British exports to the UAE cover a wide spectrum of sectors such as telecommunications, power generating machinery and equipment, electrical goods, transport, office machinery, interior and retail goods and non-metallic mineral manufacture.
British companies such as BP and Shell have played a significant role in the development of the UAE’s energy resources.
Britain is also well represented in the service sector, particularly in financial, legal and other professional services. Hundreds of British firms have a presence in the UAE.
The UAE is a significant and dependable investor in the UK economy, injecting capital, creating jobs and contributing to long-term growth.
In October 2009 the Governments of both countries established the UK-UAE Joint Economic Committee, with an explicit target of increasing trade between both countries by 60% by 2015 and at the first Committee meeting in October set the new 2015 target of £12 billion (AED70 billion) by 2015.
Figures released by the UK’s Office for National Statistics on 31st October 2014 show that bilateral trade between the UAE and UK reached £12.36 billion (AED 72bn) in 2013. This means that the £12 billion (AED 70bn) target for 2015, which the two governments set in 2009, has been met and surpassed two years ahead of the deadline.
Recent trade and investment highlights include:
ADIA purchased a 15% stake in Gatwick Airport (2010)
MASDAR bought 20% of the London Array, the world’s largest offshore wind farm development (2008)
Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company acquired conference and exhibition centre ExCel London (2008)
Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment bought Manchester City Football Club (2008)
DP World acquired P&O and took forward the £1.5 billion London Gateway development to create the UK’s first 21st Century major deep-sea container port and Europe’s largest logistics park (2006)
Dubai Investment Capital acquired UK hotels group Travelodge (2006)
Defence and Security Relations
The Armed Forces of the UAE and the UK have strong and longstanding ties. Both work closely to preserve security and stability in the Arabian Gulf.
Britain and the UAE signed a Defence Cooperation Accord in 1996 which sets out arrangements for security cooperation and represents Britain’s largest defence commitment outside NATO.
In 2009 the UK also agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UAE Armed Forces which cover arrangements for UK forces to utilise air bases in the UAE, including some sustainment flights to Afghanistan. The UAE’s 250 Special Forces soldiers are the only Arab personnel undertaking full-scale operations in Afghanistan, in support of NATO’s Operation Enduring Freedom.
Over 198 Emiratis have graduated from Britain's Royal Military Academy Sandhurst since 1974, more than from any other country other than the UK. The distinguished list of graduates includes the Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, HH Gen Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and 36 other members of the UAE’s Ruling Families. The most recent, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, graduated in April 2009 and HH Sheikh Majid bin Saud bin Rashed Al Mualla in August 2010.
The UAE Sandhurst Association was launched at a reception in Abu Dhabi in May 2009, by Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) Major General D.J. Rutherford-Jones in the presence of British Ambassador Edward Oakden and Deputy Chief of Staff of the UAE Armed Forces Major General Saeed Mohammed al-Rumaithi.
Other areas of military co-operation between the UK and UAE include loan servicemen, where UK military officers work with the UAE armed forces to help build their capabilities. Britain currently has five servicemen on loan to the UAE in training or advisory roles.
The UAE’s contribution to international security and counter-terrorism includes:
intelligence cooperation with UK government agencies
agreements with the UK on fighting money-laundering and extradition
signing up to the Proliferation Security Initiative
supporting and enforcing UN sanctions to contain Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities.
A Police Attaché operates from the UAE Embassy in London. The Police Attache represents the UAE Ministry of Interior in the UK and works closely with the British police, immigration and civilian security services. Police forces in both countries value the importance of sharing information and experience and they work together to develop technical cooperation and specialized projects in training undergraduate and postgraduates UAE police officers.
The role of a police attaché, currently held by Major Dr Khamis Almuhairi, is varied and challenging: reinforcing international cooperation on security, based on agreements signed by Ministry of Interior and British police and civilian security services; developing the growing number of bilateral links between police forces; and assisting law enforcement agencies in the prosecution of crime. The Police Attaché also oversees UAE law enforcement delegations on official trips to the UK and supervises UAE Ministry of Interior students in Britain.
The successful deployment of a Police Attaché in UK has encouraged the UAE Ministry of Interior to station further attachés in a number of other countries.
In December 2008, celebrations were recently held in Abu Dhabi to mark the tenth anniversary of the partnership between Abu Dhabi Police and the UK National Policing Improvement Agency International Academy Bramshill. The IAB is a world-leading operational command, executive leadership and advisory policing institute.
The UK’s Metropolitan Police and Abu Dhabi Police signed an updated Memorandum of Understanding in March 2009, formalising cooperation on a wide range of policing issues.
Energy - Old and New
British companies BP and Shell have worked with Abu Dhabi since the 1930s to develop the huge potential of the Emirate’s oil and gas reserves.
Both companies are long-standing joint venture partners with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operation (ADCO).
International Power works closely with the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) to ensure sustainable supplies of power and water to the capital.
In 2008 Abu Dhabi’s Future Energy Company Masdar signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Britain, to work jointly to develop renewable energy and low carbon technology, such as wind, solar and marine energy in addition to carbon capture and storage. Britain also actively supported the successful establishment of the International Renewable Energy (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi in 2009.
Masdar is a major partner in the London Array offshore wind park. The Array is set to be almost four times bigger than the next-largest offshore wind park. The first stage will include 175 turbines spread across 90 square miles, 12 miles off the Kent and Essex coasts.
BP and Rio Tinto (through their UK-based joint venture, Hydrogen Energy) are collaborating with Masdar to build a $2 billion industrial-scale hydrogen-fueled power plant, including CO2 capture, to make the first clean electricity generator in the region. The plant is expected to start in 2013.
Foster + Partners is providing the masterplan for Masdar City, the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste city which is under construction in Abu Dhabi, while Mott MacDonald have been appointed as lead designers for all infrastructure and UK consultancy WSP is developing strategies for waste management, drainage and treatment of water and sewage; power distribution; and IT and communications.
In May 2008, the UK and the UAE signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy in Abu Dhabi. Rolls-Royce is working with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) to assess Abu Dhabi’s industrial capabilities to support its proposed civil nuclear power programme.
Construction and Engineering
Some of Britain’s biggest construction, design and engineering companies are contributing to the development of the UAE.
Working with Abu Dhabi’s Aldar Properties, Foster + Partners has designed Abu Dhabi’s new Central Market development, and in 2007 won the international competition to design the Sheikh Zayed National Museum. Foster+Partners are also working with the Abu Dhabi-based National Media Council to design the stunning UAE pavilion for the World EXPO in Shanghai, due to open in June 2010
British firms played a central role in the construction of the acclaimed Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the third largest mosque in the world. Halcrow was structural supervisor for the mosque’s exterior. Hyder Consulting provided specialist lighting, acoustics, air flow analysis, and building services.
Financial and Professional Services
The City of London, the UK’s global financial centre, and Abu Dhabi have established close links with the Lord Mayor of the City of London making annual visits to the UAE, and annual investment conferences take place in London.
Several British banks operate in the UAE. HSBC, Barclays and RBS provide a full range of personal and corporate financial services. Standard Chartered Bank has operated in the UAE since 1958.
Many UK-based law firms have been working in the UAE for many years. Reed Smith opened its Abu Dhabi office in 1978 making it one of the first permanently established law firms in the UAE. Clifford Chance, Eversheds and Norton Rose, Simmons & Simmons and many others have offices in the UAE.
The depth and range of academic connections between the UK and the UAE is particularly strong.
The British School Al Khubairat, has provided high quality education to generations of children - British, Emirati and from other nations – for over 40 years. Established in January 1968, the school has been sponsored since 1980 by H.H. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.
The University of Exeter has a long history of friendship and collaborative scholarship with the Middle East. HH Shaikh Sultan Al Qassimi is one of their alumni and hosts the annual Exeter Gulf Dinner at the Dr Sheikh Sultan Al Qassimi Centre for Gulf Studies.
The London School of Economics and the UAE’s Foreign Affairs Minister HH Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan signed an agreement in December 2006 to create a new Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at the university. It was announced in 2008 that the main lecture theatre in LSE’s new academic building would be named after the late HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
The Al-Maktoum Institute - University of Aberdeen was established in Dundee in 2001 through the initiative of HH Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and is its patron and sponsor.
Durham University has had an Institute for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies for many years and in 2008 there was an appointment of a new Professorship, the Sharjah Chair. HH Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah completed 2 PhD’s at Durham the first a PhD in History with distinction in 1985 followed by PhD in Political Geography of the Gulf in 1999. He was made an Honorary Member of the Centre of Middle East and Islamic Studies in 1992.
Cambridge University and the UAE University continue to work closely together. Professor Alison Richard, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge attended and spoke at the 33rd UAE University Convocation Ceremony which was held on 6 October 2009
In December 1992, HH Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum made a personal donation to the Royal College of Surgeons. This donation was to support of the establishment of an Institute for Ageing Research and Medicine of the Elderly and to also recognise the special relationship which has existed between the College and the UAE since 1977. This agreement continues to allow UAE students access to Medical studies.
The Strathclyde Business School in Dubai and Abu Dhabi has been operating in the UAE for 15 years, initially offering their MBA programme but now includes a range of masters’ programmes.
Middlesex University Dubai and Heriott-Watt University Dubai were the first UK universities to open campuses in the Dubai Government-backed Knowledge Village in January 2005 and March 2006 respectively. They both offer a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in a wide variety of subjects.
Since January 2008, Oxford University Saïd Business School (SBS) has been working with the Abu Dhabi Civil Service Department to deliver a development programme for Abu Dhabi’s leading officials.
In September 2008, the University of Bolton opened a branch campus in Ras Al Khaimah offering 14 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
In June/July 2009 the UAE University, Masdar Institute of Science & Technology and the British University in Dubai were awarded 6 grants in funding as part of the British Prime Minister’s Initiative Connect Research Co-operation Programme. The aim of the research collaboration project is to grow high quality research co-operation between higher education institutions in the UK and around the world.
On 1 November 2009, Durham University and HCT signed a Memorandum of Understanding for educational development. The agreement was signed in Abu Dhabi by HH Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education & Scientific Research, Chancellor of the Higher College of Technology and Professor Christopher Higgins, Vice Chancellor and Warden, Durham University.
A one day conference was also held in Abu Dhabi on 15 March 2010 on the subject of Student-Centred learning in the Emirates. The conference was hosted by the Cambridge University International Examinations (CIE) and Cambridge ESOL Examinations (Cambridge ESOL) under the patronage of the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
In 1977, the founding President of the UAE, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan made a generous donation to establish the Sheikh Zayed Centre for Liver Diseases at King’s College, Oxford. HH Sheikh Zayed also sponsored medical research at other UK centres of excellence, including John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
On 14 August 2006 Imperial College London and the UAE Development Agency launched a world class diabetes centre in Abu Dhabi. The Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC) is dedicated to the prevention, treatment, training and research covering all aspects of diabetes and its complications.
Moorfields Eye Hospital runs regular clinics at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre. Moorfields, founded in 1804, is the oldest and one of the largest centres for ophthalmic treatment, teaching and research in the world.
Culture, Community and the Arts
British companies and organisations have been strong supporters of the work of the Emirates Foundation established in 2005 to support important long-term initiatives across the UAE in the areas of education, society and culture, research and development, social development and the environment.
UK donors and partners include BP, Shell, the British Council, Carillion, International Power, Rolls Royce and the British Embassy.
The Emirates Foundation and the UK’s Booker Prize Foundation launched the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in April 2007. The prize, specifically for prose literature, aims to reward excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing, to encourage wider readership of quality Arabic literature in the region and internationally, and to encourage translation and publication of Arabic language literature into other major languages.
In June 2009, the Sheikh Zayed Book Award announced a strategic partnership with the Middle East Centre at the University of Oxford. The Sheikh Zayed Book Award, established under the patronage of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, is presented every year to outstanding Arab writers, intellectuals, publishers as well as young talent whose writings and translations of humanities have scholarly and objectively enriched Arab cultural, literary and social life.
The UAE’s admiration for falconry is celebrated at the biennial International Festival of Falconry (IFF) in Britain and at the annual Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition. At the July 2009 IFF, Abu Dhabi Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan presented Prince Andrew with a white female falcon, the largest species of falcon and the national emblem of the United Arab Emirates.
The Musical Ride of the British Army’s Household Cavalry made their Middle Eastern debut in Abu Dhabi in September and October 2009, at the invitation of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. The Household Cavalry have formed HM the Queen’s personal bodyguard since 1660, providing the Queen's Life Guard daily and the Sovereign's Escort on State occasions.