UK delegation visit to Jordan underscores the longstanding strength of bilateral ties
The 20-26 November 2022 BGIPU visit to Jordan was very successful. The visit was led by Rt Hon Shailesh Vara MP and comprised Matthew Offord MP, Bambos Charalambous MP, Martin Vickers MP, Baroness Ann Taylor of Bolton and Baroness Shaista Gohir. It was the first visit by a British delegation for a number of years and it was well received by our Jordanian hosts. As well as discussing matters of mutual interest both sides were keen to reinforce the close and longstanding relationship between the United Kingdom and Jordan.
The close ties between our two countries go back decades and was clearly evident when King Abdullah II was the first overseas monarch to visit King Charles III upon his accession to the throne. King Abdullah II was also the first overseas leader to personally meet the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, in Downing Street. The importance of our visit was underscored by the number of senior ministerial meetings secured with our Jordanian counterparts, including a couple which were arranged at short notice while we were in Amman.
Achieving peace and stability in the region remains a shared priority for both Jordan and the UK. The absence of long-term peace is having a significant impact on Jordan and its economy. Jordan’s unemployment rate is 23 per cent, and amongst young people it has reached some 50 per cent, including a significant number of graduates. The preferred place of employment for many people is the public sector, but jobs in this area are at capacity while the private sector still has some way to go. The Jordanian Government is keen to reform its public sector and attract overseas finance to boost its private sector.
Jordan has a population of 11 million people, of whom 3 million are refugees – the highest percentage of refugees to any country’s population in the world. Dealing with such a high number of refugees is a formidable task. While some are living and working in the community, many others remain in refugee camps. We visited the Al Za’atari refugee camp which is close to the Syrian border and which houses 82,000 refugees. For some children in the camp, they have never known life outside. The funding received from the UK Government to support refugees is warmly welcomed by the Jordanian Government as well as the NGOs which work in the country.
Jordan also faces several natural challenges. There has been a decrease in rainfall in recent years, and Jordan is currently ranked by the United Nations as having the second highest level of water scarcity in the world. To address the growing problems posed by climate change, the Jordanian government is embarking on an ambitious desalination project. This will cost US $2.6 billion and is the most expensive project ever in the country’s history. As with many other countries, energy supply remains a problem and the Government aims to secure a sustainable power supply. An increasing problem is the influx of illegal drugs from Syria, which is taking up a considerable amount of resources. The Government remains committed to combating this trade.
The announcement by Liz Truss, when she was Prime Minister, that the UK Embassy in Israel would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was met with alarm in Jordan. There was, however, widespread appreciation when her successor, Rishi Sunak, said that our embassy would remain in Tel Aviv.
King Abdullah II has initiated moves to reform Jordanian politics, especially by introducing political parties. Polling suggests that the public is disinterested in Jordanian politics, with only 30 per cent having confidence in the Government, and only 17 per cent having faith in MPs and Parliament generally. Given the UK’s long established party political structure, our hosts were keen to hear from us on how they could set up a similar system. More generally, on other matters, we also made clear that the UK is happy to assist, for example with reform of the public sector, should they wish to take us up on our offer. One area of success for Jordan is tourism, which is increasing. The world heritage site at Petra in particular attracts many visitors each year, and is a welcome source of revenue.
I would like to thank our Ambassador to Jordan, Ms Bridget Brind OBE, and her team for providing a very helpful briefing at the start of our trip, and also for assisting with our arrangements thereafter and I am also very grateful to HE Manar Dabbas, the Jordanian Ambassador to the UK, and his team.