Naga Munchetty questions Kate Bell on rising fuel prices
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In a politically brave move, the Prime Minister is expected to meet controversial Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The pressure is on to find a way of reducing crippling fuel pump prices which are rising at their fastest rate in 13 years, reaching record levels.
Russia is the world’s largest oil exporter and second-largest crude oil seller after Saudi Arabia. It is still trading both, but the supply threat has sent prices soaring.
Moscow exports about five million barrels of oil a day.
Saudi Arabia has about two million barrels a day in spare capacity, and the United Arab Emirates one million. So if Mr Johnson can manage to persuade the Saudis – who have remained neutral over the Ukraine invasion –to co-operate, the extra capacity would go a long way towards negating the reliance on Russia.
But Russia is a strong ally of oil rival Iran so any deal will potentially increase geo-political tensions in the area. Although Downing Street insists Mr Johnson’s trip is neither finalised nor confirmed, the premier is facing calls from Tory MPs to urge the Saudis to release more oil.
But any diplomatic mission by Mr Johnson would risk being seen as highly controversial because of the country’s human rights record. In the biggest mass execution in decades, Saudi Arabia announced on Saturday that it put 81 men to death for terrorism and other offences, including holding “deviant beliefs”.
Bin Salman is said to have snubbed a request from US president Joe Biden to discus the oil supply issue, as the West tries to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels.
However, Mr Johnson is believed to have a better relationship with the de facto ruler than Mr Biden, whose links have been strained since the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
And the Prime Minister has already discussed “energy co-operation” with bin Salman, in a call with him last month.
An increase in Saudi production or releasing reserves could have a significant impact in keeping down Britain’s fuel prices, which have been spiking during the stand-off with Russia.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak faces growing demands for action to ease the pressure on families as fuel prices and energy bills rocket.
Although the UK buys very small quantities of energy from Moscow, it is still exposed to spiralling costs on the international wholesale markets.
Mr Sunak is expected to hold off on major action to ease the bills impact in his Spring Statement next week.
Instead, he is expected to focus on support for Universal Credit, while Mr Johnson will lay out a wider energy strategy as soon as this week.
Public finances have been hammered by the pandemic and Mr Sunak has announced some council tax rebates and a £200 loan to cut energy bills this autumn.
Nevertheless, repayments are being added to bills over the following five years.
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