Worldwide: What Will A Boris Johnson Premiership Mean For Business In The MENA Region?

Last Updated: 31 July 2019
Article by Maher Ghanma and Daniel Jones

Boris Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party on Tuesday 23 July, and appointed Prime Minster of the United Kingdom on Wednesday 24 July. The duration and implications of a Johnson premiership are difficult to predict. He will be entering 10 Downing Street with the self-assumed task of extracting the UK from the European Union (EU) by 31 October with or without a deal, “do or die”, as promised during his leadership campaign. He will have a Commons majority of only two or three votes (and probably no majority at all on key Brexit issues) and a recalcitrant Parliament determined to prevent no-deal.

Beyond Brexit, one of the early foreign policy tests facing Prime Minister Johnson and his newly appointed Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will be how they respond to the fast moving developments in the Gulf, particularly the recent seizure of a British oil tanker by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Prime Minister’s response will indicate the broader posture he intends to take vis-à-vis relations with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries. Given the current uncertainties in the region, it is important that businesses operating in the Middle East or with interests in the region consider how Johnson’s policies and positions may affect their decision-making and business strategy as soon as possible.

It has been suggested that Prime Minister Johnson will be (even) more willing than his predecessor to side with President Trump on key geo-political issues. This is likely to extend to the UK Government’s stance in the MENA region. In the event of a no deal Brexit, Johnson’s administration will be under intense pressure to conclude trade agreements as quickly as possible, including with key Middle Eastern partners. This alert sets out a number of foreign policy challenges the Prime Minister will face in the region, a preliminary view on how he is likely to respond to those challenges, and the possible implications for business.

UK-Iranian relations

Following the seizure of a British oil tanker sailing through the Straits of Hormuz on 19 July by the IRGC, the UK and its European allies reaffirmed the critical importance of safe passage for vessels through the Gulf. It has been reported that the UK Government is considering limited sanctions targeted at senior ranking officials of the IRGC, and the EU has supported the UK’s general position in responding to the seizure. Despite these tensions, both the EU and UK remain publically committed to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which lifted most restrictions on trade and investment with Iran. However, it is possible that Prime Minister Johnson will take an increasingly hawkish approach to Iran to accommodate the Trump Administration and counter the perception of Britain’s diminishing influence in the region. Accordingly, UK and wider businesses with interests in Iran should make contingency plans for a shift in UK Government foreign policy towards the country.

Promoting Global Britain in the Gulf: a ‘trade-first’ approach

Johnson’s promotion of ‘Global Britain’ as Mayor of London, during the referendum campaign and as Foreign Secretary included a commitment to growing the UK’s bi-lateral trade relations with the Gulf. He continues to expound the benefits of leaving the EU’s customs union to regain an independent trade policy, through which he envisages the UK striking trade agreements with growth regions around the world. During Johnson’s tenure as Foreign Secretary, the UK agreed a £65 billion agreement for future direct investment and public procurement opportunities with Saudi Arabia. This is in the wider context of over 200 British joint ventures, valued at £11.5 billion, currently operating in the UAE. Moreover, in April 2013, as Mayor of London Johnson led a trade mission to the Gulf to attract investment into the capital and build ties with Middle Eastern businesses. During that trip, the Qatari State expressed desire to increase its cumulative £20 billion investment in the UK further and promote the work of the Qatar British Business Forum.

It is expected that the new Prime Minister will continue to prioritise trade and investment with the Gulf, particularly if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and free trade agreements become an urgent priority. He will be building upon the work done by the May Government in this regard. The then International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, said he was “looking forward” to a trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and had separately approached the UAE to begin discussions of a free trade agreement in February 2019. However, Johnson’s ‘trade first’ approach is likely to be increasingly visible in the these negotiations. Whereas the EU has traditionally coupled the reduction of tariffs and quotas with a commitment to good governance, human rights and environmental standards, there are a growing number of voices in the UK Conservative Party who argue that these issues should be ‘de-coupled’. Whether and to what extent the UK Government pursues this ‘trade first’ approach will be critical in the MENA region, where oil rich kingdoms have been challenged over their commitment to environmental and social standards. There has been significant public criticism of UK arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and other governments in the Gulf against the backdrop of escalating regional military conflict, in addition to legal action brought in the UK courts by campaign groups on the legality of such exports. On 20 June, the High Court held that UK government military export licences permitting arms sales to KSA were unlawful and should be reviewed as there was a risk that the weapons might be used in violation of international humanitarian law. Boris Johnson’s policy response will be an indication of just how far this ‘trade first’ policy will extend.

Relations with North Africa: A stability first approach

How Boris Johnson approaches the political tumult in Libya, Egypt and across North Africa will be an early test for his premiership. Algeria and Sudan pose similar challenges and it is expected that Johnson will increasingly prioritise stability over nascent attempts to institute democratic governance reform.

Relations may improve with Egypt: as Foreign Secretary, Johnson met with President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to discuss means of deepening the bi-lateral arrangements and reemphasised their economic bonds and collective fight against terrorism. This platform was built upon during the 2019 EU-League of Arab States summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, where the then Prime Minister Theresa May was in attendance.

Despite past diplomatic indiscretions over the crisis in Libya, Boris Johnson’s positioning of the UK vis-à-vis General Khalifa Haftar’s offensive strategy in Libya will have consequences for business in the region. The international community must deliberate over whether to prioritise the stability offered by General Haftar or the democratic solution sought via the United Nations-brokered peace process. In what will become a golden thread in Johnson’s foreign policy, it is expected that he will depart from the UK Government’s long held position of supporting the UN-backed Government of National Accord and follow President Trump’s lead, titling towards General Haftar. In accepting that democratisation is a distant prospect, a stable regime may increase the trade, investment and business prospects in Libyan infrastructure projects, like the deep-sea Port of Susah, creating opportunities for investors. Moreover, Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary at the Foreign Office, Martin Reynolds, was appointed as the UK’s Ambassador to Libya in April 2019, which may push Libya up the Prime Minister’s priority list.

Immigration into the UK

Access to UK tourist, business and student visas are increasingly important for businesses in the MENA region as mobile workforces and ease of travel are ever more vital to maintain international operations. Boris Johnson’s internationalist and pro-migration stance as Mayor of London contrasts with his leadership of the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum, where controlling immigration was a crucial and vote wining message. However, Johnson’s pro-migration views have manifested in a commitment to a skills-based migration system that removes the previous Conservative Party commitment to keep net annual immigration below 100,000. India has been unequivocal in demanding student visas in any future trade agreement, and should Middle Eastern countries make similar demands, businesses should expect a robust visa arrangement to facilitate the flow of workers to and from the UK.

DLA Piper’s offering

This is an uncertain period across the Middle East region, including in the Gulf. It is expected that Prime Minister Johnson will adopt an Atlanticist approach to the region. The UK’s position may shift significantly, specifically as the ‘Global Britain’ agenda prioritises trade above all else. It is vital that businesses operating in, or considering entering into, the MENA region take account of these changes and how they affect their commercial operations. DLA Piper’s Global Trade and Government Affairs Team of former ministers, trade negotiators, legal and political advisors is well placed to help clients understand and navigate the political turbulence; identify the commercial risks and opportunities; and take the appropriate public policy, regulatory and government affairs driven decisions to mitigate and succeed in this environment.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions