Boris Johnson has spoken of the “candour” that exists in Britain’s relations with Saudi Arabia following talks in the kingdom, just days after it emerged he had criticised the key ally.
The Foreign Secretary suffered a humiliating rebuke from Number 10 when he claimed the kingdom was behind “proxy wars” in the Middle East.
Riyadh is supporting the internationally-recognised government of Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels but thousands have been killed in aerial bombardments. At a press conference following meetings with King Salman and Saudi ministers, Mr Johnson said he had a “deep concern” about the suffering of Yemenis but backed the Saudi Arabia-led military intervention in the country.
He said: “It’s not just a relationship based on trade or security, it’s a relationship between peoples.”
Mr Johnson added: “I should just stress as far as Yemen is concerned, Britain supports the Saudi-led campaign to restore the legitimate government and we have continued our dialogue on the conduct of this operation, a detailed dialogue.
“Of course, we continue, like everybody in this room and around the world to have a deep concern for the suffering of the people of Yemen.”
Mr Johnson said the friendship between the two nations was “developing and expanding”. He added: “I’m here to emphasis the friendship that exists between the UK and Saudi Arabia.
“It’s also fair to say that we believe in a candour in our relationship. And now, if you don’t mind, is the time for us to talk about the positive things we are doing together.”
Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said: “There are no mixed messages that we are getting from Britain. Britain is an ally of Saudi Arabia’s.”
He added: “We don’t have any doubt in where Britain stands and Britain has no doubt where we stand.”
The Defence Secretary, meanwhile, claimed Mr Johnson’s criticism had been misreported and “taken out of context”.
Sir Michael Fallon also attempted to play down No 10’s rebuke, giving an account of what happened at a regular briefing between journalists and Downing Street officials, despite not having been there.
And he accused BBC Today presenter Nick Robinson, of “making a meal” out of the furore.
He said: “I think you really are making a meal of this. Boris’s comment, as we have already established, was taken out of context in the reporting that implied we didn’t support Saudi Arabia.”