Qatar–United Kingdom relations
Qatar – United Kingdom relations are the bilateral relations between the State of Qatar and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, covering a wide range of issues and activities of mutual interest.
In 1868, British Lieutenant General and East India Company officer Sir Lewis Pelly arrived in Bahrain to protect British interests through the enforcement of the Perpetual Maritime Truce of 1853 following a number of raids by members of the tribes in the region. Pelly believed these raids had been orchestrated by the ruler of Bahrain and he resolved the situation by insisting that the rulers of Qatar, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi sign declarations to affirm their commitment to the truce. The Qatari declaration, which was signed by Mohammed bin Thani, principal ruler of the Qatari tribes, was the first recognition of Qatar as independent from Bahrain. Ultimately this treaty became the starting point for the British government’s recognition of Qatar as an independent sovereign state.
The Ottomans officially renounced sovereignty over Qatar in 1913. The new ruler Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani signed a treaty with Britain in 1916, thereby instating the area under the trucial system. This meant that Qatar relinquished its autonomy in foreign affairs, such as the power to cede territory, and other affairs, in exchange for Britain's military protection from external threats.
Initially, the British were reluctant to involve themselves in inland affairs. However, when oil was discovered in the area in the 1930s, the race for oil concessions intensified. In 1938, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company began drilling its first well in Dukhan and a year later, the well-struck oil.
Bilateral relations between the two countries have expanded since the opening of the British embassy in Doha in 1949, marked by the arrival of British Political Officer John Wilton. The embassy’s mandate is to develop and maintain relations between the United Kingdom and Qatar, dealing with a range of political, commercial, security and economic questions of interest to both countries. The current UK ambassador to Qatar is Nicholas Hopton.
The current Emir of Qatar made a state visit to the UK in October 2014.
Britain and Qatar signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement in November 2014. Britain’s Royal Air Force has an air base in Qatar known as Royal Air Force Al Udeid, located 17 miles southwest of Doha. The facility served as a station for British air operations in support of Operation Telic and Operation Herrick - the designations for British operations in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. As of 2015, the air base is being used as a headquarters for British forces involved in Operation Shader, the UK's military intervention against ISIS in Iraq.
British military also provide officer training to Qatari forces in Qatar.
Business and investment
UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) helps UK-based businesses expand in Qatar whilst also aiding Qatari businesses locate and expand in the UK. For example, the Lord Mayor of the City of London Alderman Alan Yarrow visited Qatar on 27 January 2015 to improve professional and financial services ties between the two counties, as well as to establish the new British Chamber of Commerce in Doha (housed in the headquarters of HSBC). Trade and investment between UK and Qatar currently stands at £5 billion per year. The UK is the fourth largest exporter to Qatar.
In March 2013, Qatar and the UK began talks to invest up to £10 billion from Qatar into key infrastructure projects in Britain. Among the specific schemes discussed were the new £14 billion nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset planned by EDF Energy. Qatar has also since invested in Heathrow Airport, Canary Wharf, Barclays, Sainsbury’s and Harrods.
Additionally, the Qatar British Business Forum, established in 1992, is a membership organisation with over 500 British companies based in Qatar.
The Qatar Foundation plays an important part in facilitating educational and academic connections; the foundation sponsors Qatari students studying at UK universities, and University College London (UCL) is represented at the Qatar Foundation by UCL Qatar, a branch campus partner of Hamad bin Khalifa University. On a recent official visit to Qatar, the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science, Dr David Willetts MP, spent much time at the foundation, where he highlighted the depth and importance of collaboration between UK institutions and Qatar Foundation.
Science, technology and medicine
In 2013, the UK set up the UK Science and Innovation Network (SIN) in the Gulf, based in Doha, to support science and innovation partnering in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. This is in line with Qatar’s plans to spend 2.8% of its national budget annually on research and to invest heavily in infrastructure and programmes to build a knowledge economy.
Some of the two countries’ collaborations in these fields include:
- Shell Oil / Qatar Petroleum / Imperial College London - Carbonates and Carbon Storage Centre: This is Imperial College London’s largest overseas research investment based in London and based around carbon storage.
- Imperial College London / Hamad Medical Corporation - Qatar Biobank: This project aims to map health indicators of 20% of the Qatari and long term resident population.
- Imperial College London / Qatar Foundation - Qatar Robotics Surgery Centre: This training and software development centre researches into robotic surgery.
- Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation / Qatar Foundation: Qatar Cardiovascular Research Centre: This is set to become a regional centre for cardiovascular research.
- The Qatar Foundation / British Library - Qatar Digital Library: This project will digitize, annotate and improve access to the British Library collection of Gulf records and Arab scientific manuscripts.
- Imperial College London Diabetes Centre / Mubadala Healthcare: A partnership aimed at diabetes treatment.
Additionally, Williams F1 was based at the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) for several years and the two organisations worked on a number of initiatives, including the promotion of road safety campaigns in Qatar.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron pledged the UK’s support and previous experience from hosting international sporting events to Qatar and its 2022 FIFA World Cup project at a meeting with the Emir of Qatar in October 2014.
Major UK-based construction and architecture firms have won major contracts to prepare Qatar for the 2022 event. Foster and Partners won a contract to design the main stadium that will host the opening and closing ceremonies, while WS Atkins won a £70 million contract to coordinate current and planned road, rail, metro and other major infrastructure projects. Arup Associates was also tasked with designing a new carbon-efficient stadium.
Arts and culture
In 2013, Qatar and the UK instigated the Qatar-UK Year of Culture, a year-long programme of cultural exchange between the two countries. In partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum and Qatar Museums Authority, numerous art exhibitions were launched including one of the biggest Damien Hirst exhibitions to date in Doha between October 2013 and January 2014.
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