UK facing fresh diplomatic tensions with United Arab Emirates over 'kidnapped' Princess Latifa

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James Rothwell
·4 min read
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Sheikh Mohammed maintains daughter's return to Dubai was a rescue mission - Amr Nabil /AP
Sheikh Mohammed maintains daughter's return to Dubai was a rescue mission - Amr Nabil /AP

Dubai’s ruler is unlikely to be rattled by BBC Panorama’s explosive documentary about the alleged kidnapping of his daughter, as he insists that she was brought home as part of a “rescue mission.”

But the saga of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Princess Latifa could quickly become a diplomatic nightmare for the wealthy Gulf state.

UN officials have already begun poring over the latest video smuggled out of Dubai by the princesses’ allies, in which she claims she is being held against her will in a barricaded compound with no access to lawyers or medical help.

They could then decide to pass the case on to the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for a high profile and potentially embarrassing investigation into the 71-year-old Dubai ruler.

It may also heap unwelcome strain on the wealthy Gulf state’s relationship with Britain, which has a strong emphasis on security co-operation, investment and tourism.

Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, said during a BBC interview on Tuesday that he would like to see proof from the UAE that the princess is still alive.

Relations have already been strained by a bitter court battle in the UK last year in which Sheikh Mohammed was accused of abducting Princess Latifa..

The High Court ruled at the time that the Dubai ruler had orchestrated the abduction and led a campaign of intimidation against them in an apparent breach of international law and “human rights norms.”

Sheikh Mohammed maintains that her return to Dubai was a rescue mission and that she is safe at home with her family.

The Queen is said to have distanced herself from Sheikh Mohammed in the wake of that ruling, breaking off a close relationship that was founded on their shared love of horse racing.

The Dubai ruler has posed for photographs with Her Majesty and even spent time in the royal box at Ascot, a privilege which is unlikely to be extended to him again.

Queen Elizabeth II is escorted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum, Emirati vice president and ruler of Dubai - MARWAN NAAMANI /AFP
Queen Elizabeth II is escorted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum, Emirati vice president and ruler of Dubai - MARWAN NAAMANI /AFP

Then there is the ongoing tension between Britain and the UAE over the series of cases involving British expats and tourists who have been arrested in the Gulf state after falling foul of its notoriously conservative laws on etiquette.

In 2017 a Scottish tourist, Jamie Harron, was given a three month prison sentence after he tripped over in a nightclub and accidentally touched another man’s hip, leading to an arrest for public indecency.

The following year, Jeremy Hunt, then the foreign secretary, threatened the UAE with “serious diplomatic consequences” over the life imprisonment of Matthew Hedges, who was accused of being a British spy. He was eventually pardoned. He too was pardoned by Emirati authorities after a high profile media campaign.

At the time of writing, a British woman is also facing jail in Dubai for sending a rude text message to her flatmate, which led to police confiscating her passport and charging her with slander.

Those cases sit uneasily with Dubai’s reputation as a paradise for sun-seeking tourists and expats who are lured to the desert skyscrapers with lucrative job offers and phenomenally low tax rates.

With renewed scrutiny of the Dubai ruler's treatment of his children, Britain may come under pressure to cool relations even further.

This could have ramifications for Britain’s post-Brexit foreign policy, in which wealthy Gulf states such as the UAE are expected to play a far greater role.

The UAE is a major market for British arms sales, having sold around £7bn in weapons to the Gulf state over the past decade.

Britain is already under pressure to adopt President Joe Biden’s tougher stance on Gulf weapons trade, which saw him freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as Washington conducted a review.

Saudi Arabia has faced repeated allegations of using Western defence technology to kill and maim civilians in the war in Yemen against Houthi rebels.

Amnesty International has also claimed that the UAE is giving Western arms to “completely unaccountable militias, some of which stand accused of war crimes.”

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia deny any wrongdoing in their defence policies.

The Telegraph has approached Emirati authorities for comment.