Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has sparked widespread criticism for its record on women’s, LGBTQ+, and migrant worker rights. The attendance of officials, teams, and even fans has been called into question. But our relationship with Qatar extends far beyond the current tournament, touching almost every aspect of our lives.
Some may question whether it is appropriate to maintain such ties with a regime whose values appear to be at odds with British values.
Gas is at the heart of this relationship. Qatar is a tiny country the size of Yorkshire, but it has one of the world’s largest natural reserves – and the UK is a key customer.
About half of the UK’s gas is imported, with half of that coming via a pipeline from Norway. However, Qatar is second on the list, accounting for about 9% of our energy imports. In theory, that’s enough to power the boilers in a million British homes. Qatar has become an important part of our energy mix in less than 20 years.
What is so controversial about the World Cup finals in Qatar?
Although the UK and Qatar have few historical ties, the latter has channeled its booming gas-based wealth into embedding itself in the UK’s corporate and property landscape, as well as cementing ties with the top tiers of British establishment.
The Emir of Oman was among the few Gulf leaders to attend the Queen’s funeral. In 2015, the current King accepted a £2 million donation for his charitable foundation from a former Qatari political leader (part of which was allegedly handed over in Fortnum and Mason’s carrier bags).
Our armed forces have formed two joint squadrons, one of which is patrolling the skies above World Cup venues.
In September, Qatar acquired 24 fighter jets built in Lancashire as part of a £5 billion deal with BAE Systems.
On the ground, the Qatari government has recycled some of its funds by investing in the United Kingdom. It is not one of our largest investors, but its holdings are carefully selected to maximize visibility and influence. It is one of the top ten property owners in the United Kingdom.
The Canary Wharf Group, which owns landmarks such as 20 Fenchurch Street, nicknamed the Walkie Talkie, and the Shell Centre redevelopment on London’s South Bank, is at the heart of its property empire.
In London, the Qatari government also owns the luxury department store Harrods and the five-star hotel Claridge’s.
In our daily lives, it owns significant stakes in some of our most well-known brands. Qatar benefits when one banks with Barclays, shop at Sainsbury’s, or fly out of Heathrow.
When one turns on the tap as a Severn Trent water customer, the bill contributes to the company’s profits.
In total, Qatar’s state investment arm has invested around £40 billion in areas that affect millions of British lives, with the goal of ensuring that that tiny country punches far above its weight on British soil.
And they are funds that our government has welcomed and is eager to expand. In May, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an agreement for Qatar to invest up to £10 billion in the UK over the next five years in sectors ranging from cybersecurity to life sciences.
UK natural gas imports
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s reliance on Qatari gas may increase in the future. The UK government has been cultivating relations with Doha in order to ensure supply security as North Sea reserves dwindle.
In recent months, Britain has succeeded in eliminating Russian imports. That was only about 4% of the total for the UK, but it makes the gas we get from Qatar even more important.
Because the EU is far more reliant on Russian gas, finding alternatives is even more critical.
Overall, the EU received only 5% of its gas from Qatar, but this could change. Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has stated that Qatar will play a critical role in the country’s strategy to diversify away from Russian gas. However, it will not happen overnight.
Contract negotiations have been challenging. Qatar prefers to supply gas in long-term contracts lasting 15-20 years, which may conflict with Western nations’ efforts to decarbonize.
China, on the other hand, has announced a 27-year agreement to buy $60 billion in Qatari gas, despite its less ambitious net-zero plans. In order to accept more supplies, Germany must improve its infrastructure, specifically the terminals that receive liquefied natural gas, or LNG.
The UK is ahead of the game in the latter, thanks to Qatar’s cooperation. The country owns a majority stake in Wales’ South Hook terminal, where LNG is loaded into special containers. The site is said to be capable of storing a fifth of the UK’s daily gas needs, and the Qatari government is investing millions to increase that capacity by a quarter by 2025.
And by then, Qatar expects to have doubled its LNG output, with no shortage of customers. Many Asian countries are competing with Europe to secure energy supplies, and Qatar is seen as a relatively reliable and geopolitically tame option. The alternatives may not be appealing: for example, while part of the world’s largest gas field is located in Qatari waters, the remainder is located in Iran’s (the two countries produce gas independently).
Some of us may not be able to locate the country on a map, but our relationship with Qatar appears to be strengthening in the coming years.
(Adapted from BBC.com)