Rishi Sunak did not raise the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi when he met Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and prime minister Mohammed bin Salman, Downing Street said.
No 10 said the two leaders had a “fairly lengthy discussion” on social reforms, women’s rights and civil liberties during their talks on the margins of the G20 summit in Bali.
The meeting was controversial as the Gulf state’s day-to-day leader is accused of ordering the assassination of Mr Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 – a subject that was not raised by Mr Sunak.
US President Joe Biden raised the issue in his own talks with the crown prince in July, indicating that he thought the Saudi leader was personally responsible for the killing of the writer.
But Downing Street said Mr Sunak “didn’t raise specific individual cases” as “that’s not normally the norm in these sorts of things”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “They had a fairly lengthy discussion on some of the work by Saudi Arabia in recent years to improve on social reforms.
“They talked about issues like women’s rights and the need for more progress on freedoms in the kingdom.”
The talks were held at a luxury resort hotel on the tropical island on the first day of the gathering of leaders of the world’s major economies.
Speaking ahead of their full bilateral meeting, Mr Sunak said he looked forward to “working together to the benefit of both of our countries and indeed tackle some of these global challenges that we were talking about this morning”.
That was expected to include a plea for Riyadh to produce more oil and gas in response to the disruption of supplies from Russia.
Saudi Arabia, which leads the Opec alliance of oil-producing nations, has faced criticism for agreeing to cut production starting in November despite global shortages.
The move strained relations with western nations including the US, which said the cut effectively benefits Russia, another Opec member, at a time when they are trying to choke off Moscow’s oil revenue to undercut its war in Ukraine.
A Downing Street spokesman said the two leaders “discussed the importance of continued UK-Saudi co-operation in the face of regional security threats and international economic instability”.
“In light of the global increase in energy prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Prime Minister said he hoped the UK and Saudi Arabia could continue to work together to stabilise energy markets.
“The leaders also shared their concern over threats to peace and security in the Middle East, including Iran’s destabilising activity in the region.”
Amnesty International UK’s chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said: “It’s disappointing that the Prime Minister apparently didn’t raise the need for justice for Jamal Khashoggi’s calculated murder at the hands of agents of the Saudi state.
“We’re told the PM spoke of the need for more progress on women’s rights and freedoms in the Kingdom, yet any ‘progress’ is currently non-existent – women are still discriminated against by law and the bulk of Saudi civil society is either already behind bars, living in exile or has been intimidated into silence.”
Mr Deshmukh added: ““The Saudi authorities appear to see meetings like the G20 as an opportunity to use their clout in the international energy market as a means to dampen down criticism of their appalling human rights record.”