The Left will let Saudi Arabia seize the jewel in our crown

Britain's elite schools are a valuable export industry
Britain's elite schools are a valuable export industry - Xialu Chu/Getty

Wealthy Arabs love Mayfair for its flash restaurants and beautiful boutiques, but when Saudi dignitaries swept into a discreet address off Park Lane last week, it was not designer clothes or haute cuisine they were after. Led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s education minister, the delegation had come to talk about our famous schools and universities – and explore opportunities for exporting the best of British education to Riyadh and beyond.

Oh, the irony! Just as Labour limbers up to unleash a devastating ideological assault on private schools with a tax policy that threatens to drive some out of existence, one of the richest and most ambitious countries on the planet is eyeing them up.

During their stay in London, the Saudi delegation met UK government officials, representatives from schools and universities, and British businesses. They were all eager to feature in Mohammed bin Salman al Saud’s multibillion dollar programme to transform his kingdom from a hard-line Islamic regime that used to condone the stoning of women for adultery into an AI superpower with a tech industry that will make Silicon Valley look dated.

Whether Saudi ministers found time in their packed schedule to talk to anyone from the Labour Party is doubtful, which may be just as well. The danger is that Sir Keir Starmer’s lot would not have been able to resist talking down our elite educational establishments. Far from celebrating the fact that we have the most famous schools on the planet, and recognising that the best of these institutions provide an outstanding education to British children and attract the offspring of a global elite (boosting this country’s diminishing influence in the world), Labour wants to vaporise them.

Lest there be any doubt, the Leader of the Opposition used one of his first broadcast interviews of the general election campaign yesterday to declare that his toxic plan to slap VAT on school fees is a “day one priority”. It will come into force as fast as he can make it happen. In a few months’ time, parents of children in private schools will see a 20 per cent hike to fees that, for many, are already almost impossible to pay.

While those who sacrifice almost everything to send their children to independent schools because the local state offering is inadequate seethe at the self-defeating, green-eyed, doggie-in-the-manger politics driving this policy, governors and trustees must face up to the facts. They are now in a desperate race against time to stop a mass exodus of pupils to a state system that cannot cope with the numbers it already has. If they are to survive they need solutions – fast.

The enthusiasm of other countries for a product an incoming Labour government will not value offers a lifeline. A growing number of British schools may be able to absorb some of the VAT hit by increasing their network of overseas outposts in rapidly developing places like Saudi. This does not involve reinventing the wheel: many are already expanding across the world.

This September, Uppingham opens a 10-acre campus in Cairo, overlooking the Great Pyramid of Giza. Dulwich College, Harrow, Shrewsbury, Wellington, Repton and Brighton College are among the many other famous British schools with international campuses in the Middle East and South-East Asia. Such franchises pay hefty fees to the UK schools to use their brand. Boost this overseas income, and it may be possible to keep the motherships afloat.

By establishing new outposts, independent schools will be doing parents a double service. Those who remain committed to providing their children with the best possible education, but do not want to bankroll the further ruination of this country under a redistributive, net zero-obsessed Left-wing administration, will be able to vote with their feet. As the countdown towards a likely Keir Starmer government begins, there is still time to get out – and enrol children in a brilliant British school overseas.