Valentine Low, David Brown, Catherine Philp, Martyn Ziegler, and Roya Nikkhah
March 7, 2020, The Sunday Times
Royal call for diversity in Commonwealth message to ‘worldwide family’ of nations
The Queen is to distance herself from the billionaire ruler of Dubai after a court ruled that he had kidnapped two of his daughters, The Times has learnt.
The Queen and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum have had a close relationship for decades through their shared love of racing and he has been a guest in the royal box at Ascot.
However, she is now expected to refuse to be photographed with him in public after a judge ruled that he had kidnapped his daughters Shamsa and Latifa and had them brought back to Dubai. The decision to shun the sheikh could have an impact on Britain’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates, a key ally.
Sheikh Mohammed, 70, was also said to have caused Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, then his wife, to be in fear of her life after discovering her affair with a bodyguard. She fled last year to her £75 million home in west London with their two children, Jalila, now 12, and Zayed, seven. The couple have since divorced.
The news came as this morning the Queen spoke of the “inspiring diversity” of the Commonwealth and how she is “encouraged” that its leaders are increasingly focused on “protecting our planet” in her first message to the group since the UK left the EU.
She praised the “worldwide family” of nations of which she is the head, for helping each other “imagine and deliver a common future . . . needed for social, political and economic resilience”.
The claims about the Dubai royal family’s lives were disclosed after the Supreme Court ruled that a judgment in their custody battle for the children could be made public.
As well as being the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed is vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven semi- autonomous states.
In a sign of British nervousness over the fallout, Downing Street said yesterday that Boris Johnson had spoken to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s de-facto leader, about strengthening bilateral ties. Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, who is in Saudi Arabia, said: “We’ll look at [the judgment] very carefully before jumping to any conclusions.” The government has been seeking to bolster its relationship with the Gulf after Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The Queen is understood to want to avoid being dragged into the dispute between the sheikh and Princess Haya. She has been photographed with Sheikh Mohammed and has for a decade received annual gifts of horses from him and also uses his stud services.
She will now make sure that she is not in a situation where she is likely to be photographed with him or the princess, The Times understands. If the Queen were to shun the sheikh completely, it could have serious consequences. Dubai is a key intelligence and defence partner in the Gulf. A racing source said that if the ruler were to feel slighted he could well “walk off in a huff”.
The UAE is one of the biggest markets for British arms manufacturers, buying £7.3 billion of weapons and dual-use equipment between 2008 and 2017. It has repeatedly pressured the British government over unflattering depictions of its royal family in the media.
The publication of the ruling by Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, has also prompted Cambridgeshire police to review for the second time its inquiry into the kidnap of Princess Shamsa.
Sheikh Mohammed was accused in court of ordering his agents to abduct her in Cambridge after she escaped in 2000 from the family’s country estate. The judge ruled that he had orchestrated her abduction and forced captivity. He also found that the sheikh was behind the kidnapping of Princess Latifa, 34, who was taken from a yacht in the Indian Ocean in 2018.
Robin Cook, the foreign secretary at the time of Shamsa’s capture, asked to be kept informed of the case. The officer leading the investigation was denied permission by the Crown Prosecution Service to travel to Dubai to interview witnesses and the inquiry was dropped.
Detective Chief Inspector David Beck said that the truth was being suppressed to save official “embarrassment”. He added that he had been prevented from reviewing the police files in the case despite being required to give evidence in the High Court.
“They said in the statements in court they quoted ‘significant sensitivities’ and to me ‘significant sensitivities’ means someone is going to get embarrassed. Well, personal embarrassment is not a reason for withholding the truth about the evidence,” he said.
The British Horseracing Authority has been urged to reassess its permission for Sheikh Mohammed to operate as a racehorse owner in the United Kingdom after the ruling found he had “not been open and honest with the court”. The authority declined to comment.
Jo Stevens, a Labour MP who sits on the digital, culture, media and sport committee, said that the authority should investigate the case.
The Queen’s Commonwealth message comes ahead of Commonwealth Day on Monday, when she will attend a service at Westminster Abbey with members of the royal family, including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who will undertake their final official engagement before stepping down from royal duties at the end of the month.
In her message, the monarch also spoke of how “advances in technology” and “connectivity” across the Commonwealth were fuelling greater environmental consciousness: “We are also aware, perhaps as never before, that wherever we live, our choices and actions affect the well-being of people and communities living far away, and in very different circumstances.
“For many, this awareness awakens a desire to employ our planet’s natural resources with greater care, and it is encouraging to see how the countries of the Commonwealth continue to devise new ways of working together to achieve prosperity, whilst protecting our planet.”
From April 1 st, Harry will also lose his Commonwealth Youth Ambassador title, given to him by the Queen shortly before his marriage to Meghan in 2018. But the couple will continue in their roles as president and vice-president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, which champions young global leaders.