Following International Trade Secretary Liam Fox's recent trip to Kuwait, Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal-Democrats, says the UK government is engaged in a "desperate" bid to secure trade deals with authoritarian countries in the Middle East, amid concerns about the country's economic future outside the EU.
On top of the recent trip to Kuwait, a country criticized for its crackdown on freedom of speech and violation of privacy, Fox has made two other trips to Oman and Bahrain, and is understood to be lining up trade talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
"Another day, another desperate visit by Liam Fox to secure a trade deal with a country that has a questionable record on human rights," Farron told the Independent newspaper.
"All because the Conservative Brexit government is hell bent on taking us out of the single market without even putting the final deal to the British people."
These are the countries the UK is talking to about a trade deal— Ian Silvera (@ianjsilvera) January 19, 2017
"This follows his attempts to strike trade deals with Saudi Arabia and Oman among others. If only he were so keen to ensure Britain was able to continue trading in the world's largest market, the single market. Then he wouldn't need to put trade above human rights."
Many Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have been widely criticized by human rights campaigners and the international community for their use of the death penalty, violent crackdown on political dissent and treatment of women.
May Urged to Address Turkish ‘Human Rights Crackdown'
The concern about Gulf trade talks comes amid fresh calls for prime minister May to address the issue of human rights during talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday.
Following Turkey's failed coup in July last year, many alleged plotters have been arrested, thousands of public officials — such as judges, teachers and university academics — have been sacked, while numerous media outlets have also been shut down in what has been described by critics as a purge to eliminate anti-Erdogan opposition in the country.
While government officials say May will use the visit to discuss trade, defense and security issues, campaigners say the talks present the UK with a "vital opportunity" to "ask some probing questions about Turkey's human rights crackdown following last year's bloody coup attempt."
"Human rights abuses during the attempted coup absolutely must be investigated and their perpetrators brought to justice, but this can't be done at the expense of fundamental rights," Amnesty International's UK Director, Kate Allen, told IBTimes.
"Turkey’s president and government instrumentalized military coup attempt of July 2016 to crack down on human rights"https://t.co/ftXqSokgiP— tanner b. (@nztanner) January 13, 2017
"We've gathered disturbing evidence of widespread torture in the immediate aftermath of the would-be coup, and the rights of detainees have also been severely curtailed in a series of executive decrees," she added.
"Ms May should call for journalists held in pre-trial detention in Turkey to be released, for an end to torture in detention and for due process and the rule of law in Turkey to prevail."