Courting Qatar could harm British interests

Qatar’s credentials as one of Britain’s biggest inward investors are rarely questioned, and the economic friendship is growing.

In recent weeks, representatives of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, said they were negotiating a possible £10bn infrastructure investment deal with our government. In addition, the sovereign Arab state has reportedly set its sights on buying Britain’s Marks & Spencer, and London’s upmarket hotels, the Berkeley, the Connaught and Claridge’s.

Qatar’s interest in British trophy assets is no secret — the state already owns Harrods and Christie’s, has financed the Shard, joined Delancey Estates to buy the Olympic Village site for £600m and partly financed the Candy brothers for the One Hyde Park residential development.

As a result, Qatar has been tirelessly courted by Downing Street, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Royal family. The Emir was one of the few leaders granted an official stay at Windsor Castle.

Courting Qatar clearly pays financial dividends when bank lending and capital is short. But in reaching out to Qatar economically, the UK seems to have ignored the state’s tenuous foreign policy.

The Emir visited Gaza after Israel’s Pillar of Defence campaign against terrorist attacks from Hamas. Last year, the Emir promised to provide the Hamas-dominated government with $400m and Qatar has also promised to fund terrorist group Hizbollah.

Qatar clearly believes it protects itself from dissention in the region by aligning with extremist movements in the Middle East and upholding strong economic relations with the West.

The Gulf’s conduct when it comes to financial arrangements is also questionable.

After the 2008 financial eruption, Barclay’s Bank turned to the Qataris for a capital injection. Involvement came at a heavy price when Qatar representatives destabilised the share price of the bank and unexpectedly sold five per cent of its stake for £1.3 billion in 2009.

Britain needs what Qatar has, from natural gas to capital invested in property, business and infrastructure. But the government’s willingness to sweep aside national security implications is unsettling for Britain.

Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail

Last updated: 10:45am, March 29 2013