May and LSE chief woo Saudi ministers for $2tn Aramco listing

UK prime minister and London Stock Exchange boss seek to win flotation of state oil company, likely to be largest of all time

Theresa May and the London Stock Exchange chief executive, Xavier Rolet, have launched a charm offensive in Riyadh to woo Saudi ministers with the prospect of London hosting the upcoming flotation of Saudi state oil company Aramco, which is likely to be the largest of all time.

Rolet travelled to the Saudi capital independently of May and accompanied the prime minister to a meeting with Aramco’s chief executive Khalid Al-Falih, who is also the kingdom’s energy minister.

The meeting, which was the first the prime minister held after touching down in Riyadh on Tuesday, is a sign of the political importance No 10 places on securing LSE’s hosting of the international component of the flotation, which is worth 5% of the $2tn (£1.6tn) company.

No 10 officials said the prime minister had set out “the sort of depth of expertise that there is in London and the UK in terms of financial services, and also the supporting ecosystem – accountancy, legal and also the depth of investment opportunities that there are in the UK”.

London’s hosting of the flotation was specifically mentioned in several meetings on Tuesday, according to Downing Street sources accompanying the prime minister’s visit.

“The prime minister set out the advantages and the opportunities which are available in London. She set out the wealth of investment opportunity and proven experience that we have,” a source said.

The two-day visit to Saudi Arabia has been criticised by human rights charities as a sign of the UK’s desire to hawk its expertise to countries with chequered human rights records in the aftermath of the UK’s formal notification of EU departure, with Liam Fox also visiting the Philippines’ controversial president, Rodrigo Duterte.

On Wednesday May and Rolet met Yasir al-Rumayyan, the director of the Saudi public investment fund – a sovereign wealth fund – to discuss inward investment in the UK with a focus on science, education and infrastructure, though no particular projects have been agreed.

Trade talks have historically focused on arms sales, but sources insisted the prime minister had not brought a full trade delegation with her on this trip, with no one from the British multinational arms manufacturer BAE Systems. In 2015, 83% of UK arms exports almost £900m – went to Saudi Arabia, according to analysis of HMRC figures by Greenpeace.

Downing Street announced on Monday it had drawn up plans with Riyadh to boost support for Saudi’s much-vaunted Vision 2030 strategic plan for diversifying the Saudi economy to decrease its over-reliance on oil, spearheaded by the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who met May on Tuesday.


Jessica Elgot in Riyadh

The GuardianTramp

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