Theresa May meets Saudi Crown Prince without a headscarf

Caroline Mortimer
Theresa May with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef in Riyadh on Wednesday: EPA

Theresa May met the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia without wearing a headscarf, in defiance of the kingdom’s strict rules on female dress.

The deeply conservative theocracy imposes strict controls on its female citizens, requiring them to wear long, black cloaks known as abayas with a hijab or niqab to cover their heads in public places.

It also heavily restricts women’s rights and freedom of movement with laws requiring adult woman to have a male guardian and a ban on women driving.

The Foreign Office advises women travelling to the country to cover their hair and wear loose fitting clothes. But Ms May followed in the footsteps of Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton when she stepped out bare-headed and in trouser suit to meet Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef.

There had been intense speculation ahead of the visit to strengthen trade links over whether Ms May would conform to the kingdom’s strict rules, but she was seen without a headscarf as her plane touched down in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Ms May said she wanted to act as a role model to oppressed women in Saudi Arabia by showing them “what women can achieve”.

She said: "It's important for me as a woman leader and as leader of the Government of the United Kingdom to maintain the relationships that are important to us as a country, for our security, and our trade for the future.

"But I hope also that people see me as a woman leader, will see what women can achieve and how women can be in significant positions."

Following the meeting with Crown Prince Muhammad, Ms May announced sweeping reforms which will revolutionise the Saudi economy with Britain’s help.

The Saudi royal family is attempting to move the kingdom away from its traditional dependence on oil following a collapse in the price per barrel over the last few years.

It plans to increase the number of women in work as well as boosting access to its culture.

Last month, King Salman bin Abdul-aziz al Saud toured several Asian nations including Japan, Indonesia and China to establish trade links.

The visit, along with the UK’s long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia, has drawn heavy criticism from human rights campaigners.

Activists have condemned Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record within the country as well as its military intervention in Yemenusing UK-made arms.

The two-year conflict has so far left 7,600 dead and 42,000 injured - mostly in Saudi-led air strikes - with approximately 70 per cent of the country needing humanitarian aid.