UK trade secretary Liam Fox pulls out of Saudi conference over Khashoggi crisis

The Khashoggi crisis engulfing Saudi Arabia worsened today as the UK’s international trade secretary Liam Fox (pictured) pulled out of next week’s "Davos in the Desert" conference, intended to enthuse the business and finance world about its vast new city development plans.

A government spokesman said: "The UK remains very concerned about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance."

Ministers from France and the Netherlands have also withdrawn.

Another key figure, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has now also pulled out of the conference.

On Sunday Fox was reported to be considering his attendance at the Future Investment Forum (FII), dubbed "Davos in the Desert", taking place 23-25 October in Riyadh.

His decision today comes after a whirlwind mission by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia and Turkey this week, which failed to defuse the crisis.

US President Donald Trump appeared to give public relations support to his Saudi allies this week, suggesting "rogue elements" may have killed Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident journalist who vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

But Turkey only entrenched its position that the Saudi regime is responsible.

Yesterday, a pro-government Turkish newspaper added fuel to the fire by claiming to have voice recordings of the moments leading up to Khashoggi’s alleged murder after being tortured.

Significantly, that report said the Saudi consul general was present at the alleged murder, and could be heard saying: "Do this outside. You’re going to get me in trouble."

Fox’s decision was announced around mid-day today.

"The Secretary of State for International Trade has decided the time is not right for him to attend the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on 23 October," said a UK government spokesman, reports The Telegraph.

"The UK remains very concerned about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.

"We encourage Turkish-Saudi collaboration and look forward to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia conducting a thorough, credible, transparent, and prompt investigation, as announced. Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account."

France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire also pulled out today, the Telegraph said.

"I will not be going," he said. "The allegations are serious".

He was followed shortly after by Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch finance minister, the newspaper said.

Yesterday, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, also pulled out of the FII conference.

Despite the collapse in attendance, there are no signs yet the FII conference will be cancelled.

On Tuesday organisers tweeted a dazzling video claiming the conference is "the global platform of future trends and growth opportunities, where innovative ideas partner with powerful, responsible investments, and together create a comprehensive action plan that drives global prosperity and shapes the future of economy for the betterment of all mankind."

  • • Edited 19 October to update Steven Mnuchin’s decision.

Image: The UK’s international trade secretary Liam Fox, preparing for a speech yesterday (Twitter)

More fallout from the Khashoggi crisis:

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