UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to travel to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia this week, according to people familiar with the matter, as pressure mounts on the OPEC members to raise oil output.
The visit comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roils energy markets, driving crude prices close to $100 a barrel.
Johnson is tentatively scheduled to meet the de facto ruler of the UAE, Mohammed bin Zayed, and energy officials in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. He is meant to travel to Riyadh later the same day and meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, two of the people said, declining to be named as the information is not public.
The prime minister’s possible trip to Saudi Arabia was reported earlier by UK media. Downing Street declined to comment to Bloomberg. Johnson’s plans may still change, some of the people said.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE pump more than 13 million barrels a day of oil between them and are among the few producers with significant spare capacity. They are key members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The cartel is in an alliance with Russia that’s known as OPEC+.
The Saudis and Emiratis and have so far resisted calls from the US, Japan and European nations to accelerate production increases.
Last week, the UAE’s ambassador to Washington said Abu Dhabi would call on other members of OPEC+ to boost output faster. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the overture, though the UAE oil minister later tempered expectations and reiterated his country was committed to OPEC+.
The group, which next meets on March 31, has pledged to add an extra 400,000 barrels per day to global markets each month. Traders say that’s not enough to balance supply and demand.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE would risk breaking up the OPEC+ partnership and hurting their relationship with Russia if they did pump above their quotas.
Still, Johnson has come under pressure to ask the Saudi crown prince for more oil. He has maintained better ties with Prince Mohammed, known as MBS, than US President Joe Biden.
Biden has chosen to bypass MBS, who runs day-to-day affairs in the kingdom, and communicate only with King Salman. It’s a policy perceived as a slight in Riyadh and it’s hindered US efforts to rally Gulf Arab oil producers behind efforts to isolate Moscow.
“At a time of a major global energy crisis that has been caused by this war in Europe,” Sajid Javid, the UK health secretary, told Times Radio on Monday, “it is right for the prime minister and other world leaders to engage with Saudi Arabia.”