In a week of significant developments in the Middle East, Theresa May's speech in Jordan on 30 November 2017 outlined her vision for the UK's post-Brexit relationship with Jordan and the wider region, focussing on a commitment to support national prosperity and regional security. In order to contribute meaningfully to these priorities, the UK Government must now focus on supporting joint bilateral initiatives that promote socio-economic development and enable the Kingdom to achieve economic security through job creation and employment for a bulging youth population.

Speaking at a press conference in Amman at the end of a three day tour of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan, the Prime Minister's message to Jordan was clear: “Britain will be a partner you can depend on”. Whilst security and counterterrorism cooperation dominated much of the Prime Minister's visit, the UK Government also sought to publicise its commitment to boost UK-Jordan trade and investment opportunities and strengthen long-term support for economic and social reform in Jordan and its neighbouring region.

In what was her second visit to Jordan in less than a year, the commitment to deepen UK-Jordan economic ties and cooperation comes at crucial time for both countries. Almost two years on from the Jordan Compact, signed in London in 2016, the Government continues to face the challenge of integrating the rising number of refugees fleeing conflict in neighbouring countries into its labour market. The Jordan Compact, which secured $1.7 billion from the international community, also included an agreement between the EU and Jordan to simplify rules of origin and unlock preferential access to the EU market for Jordanian exporters who employ Syrian refugees as 15% of their workforce in the first two years, and 25% thereafter.

However, since 2016, only two Jordanian companies have successfully participated in the scheme and the initiative has done little to support the integration of refugees into Jordan's economy and labour market in real terms. To meaningfully apply the Rules of Origin Agreement, the EU and Jordanian Government ought to fully communicate and explain the benefits for employers under the Agreement. Doing so could turn the challenges presented by the refugee crisis in Jordan into an economic opportunity for the country and the wider region.

During her speech, the Prime Minister did not specify whether the UK would seek to continue, or establish a new framework within which to formally participate in the EU-Jordan Compact, following its departure from the EU in 2019. However in terms of key developments in the area of trade and investment, the PM did announced the following in Amman:

  • To support the growth of partnerships between British and Jordanian businesses, focusing on shared expertise in services and work to deliver an ambitious UK-Jordan trade deal after Brexit
  • A UK Government contribution of £94.5 million towards strengthening Jordan’s economic resilience and supporting government reforms – including £60 million in investment grants to support private sector growth, critical infrastructure projects, essential skills training, the quality of education and to create new jobs for young people
  • To use the breadth of the UK's international relationships and influence in multilateral financial institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank, to secure financial backing for Jordan's Vision 2025 reforms
  • To help position Jordan as a focal point for new business and investment in the MENA region, including to support the reconstruction of Syria following a successful peace negotiation
  • To establish a joint senior policy dialogue on economic reform

As the UK Government prepares to the leave the EU and works to strengthen its trade and investment partnerships with third countries, it must look to enhance its relationship with key allies such as Jordan beyond the narrow focus of security cooperation. Working closely with the Jordanian Government, the UK must focus on communicating to businesses and industry groups the benefits of the commitments it has made to UK-Jordan trade and investment. This is essential if the UK Government is to play its part encouraging the creation of much needed jobs and contributing meaningfully to regional economic growth, resilience and stability.