Doha emerges as saviour for post-Brexit Britain reeling under all-time high gas prices.
Since 2021, the United Kingdom has suffered from a natural gas supplier crisis. Falling temperatures, increased regulatory mandates, restarting of the global economy following Covid-19 lockdowns, and geopolitical uncertainties surrounding Ukraine have all been factors in play. As the British face soaring gas prices that have recently reached an all-time high, the government has come under growing pressure to stop this energy crisis from exacerbating further.
Qatar has stepped in as the UK’s “last-minute saviour”. This gas-wealthy Gulf state, which has for decades maintained a unique relationship with London, is now helping the British cope with their energy problems.
Late last year, The Independent reported that London has tapped Doha as “an informal natural gas supplier of last resort” amid the national crisis. In October, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss visited Qatar for talks which many observers see as connected to Doha’s decision to take on this informal role in ensuring gas flows to the UK.
“Qatar continues to be a supplier of liquefied natural gas to UK buyers but is not a formal supplier…and we have not requested or secured any additional shipments from the Qatari government,” said a UK government official.
According to the British digital media’s sources, London is seeking to become less dependent on the United States and Norway for its gas supplies while “existing commercial relationships between Qatar and UK-based buyers, such as Centrica, make it easier for the government to encourage greater supply without saying that it has directly requested additional shipments”.
Qatar’s decision to help guarantee that the British have stable LNG sources by diverting some of their tankers to the UK needs to be understood within the context of not only London’s interests, but those of Qatar too. An important factor is that with the UK no longer in the European Union, Qatar and other countries can enter deals and arrangements with the British that are not subject to regulations imposed by the 27-member union.
“There was always a very strategic relationship between London and Doha,” said Dr. Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, in an interview with TRT World. “But the opportunities post-Brexit are such that the UK is less constrained when entering defence and commercial deals because they’re less constrained by the EU, particularly when it comes to making or receiving investments from Qatar. This whole LNG element that we’ve seen now is part of that debate.”
In June 2018, the European Commission began a formal investigation into Qatar Petroleum to determine whether the world’s number one LNG exporter had entered into agreements with importers in Europe which violate the EU’s antitrust laws. Then, last year, the European Commission's competition department began “collecting evidence about market behaviour of main gas suppliers with a view to detecting any anti-competitive behaviour in the energy market.” Although the EU is yet to make a final decision, there is no denying that officials in Doha are upset about these investigations.
“Obviously, with the current contraction of the market in terms of supply contraction and overdemand following Covid-19, and the overall inflation of prices that we’ve seen in the gas market, the EU as well as the UK are competing for supplies,” Dr. Krieg told TRT World. “The Qataris are happy to supply them. [The Qataris’] decision to divert some of these ships to the UK has been very strategic. These are ships that could have gone to the EU and Qatar decided to supply some of that gas to the UK instead.”
At a time when Gulf states have a growing perception of the US as a power that’s retreating from the Middle East, Doha is keen to strengthen its already close and highly strategic relationship with London. This energy crisis subjecting UK citizens to spiralling energy costs provides Qatar with a chance to make itself increasingly valuable to London as an important Arab partner.
What remains to be seen is how this instance of Qatar playing the “saviour” role amid the energy crisis in the UK can impact other areas of Doha-London relations. The Qataris can benefit from post-Brexit UK being an attractive partner in several domains, including investment, aviation, trade, green energy, and defence. The agreement that Qatar Foundation and Rolls Royce signed in November 2021, which is aimed at creating a minimum of 10,000 climate-tech jobs in the next 18 years, is a case in point. The same is true regarding the US$600 million stake that Qatar Airways bought in British Airways-owner International Airlines Group (IAG) in February 2020.
Looking ahead, the Gulf country and the UK are set to continue strengthening their bilateral ties in strategic ways. Doing so can further position Qatar to become an increasingly significant part of London’s Global Britain strategy as the UK charts its course on the international stage in the post-Brexit era.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
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