The Prime Minister will become the first British Prime Minister and the first woman to attend the annual meeting of leaders from the Gulf Co-operation Council this week.

On a 2-day visit to Bahrain, the Prime Minister will seek to open a new chapter in relations between the UK and the Gulf States, renewing centuries-old ties and forging a stronger partnership focused on security and prosperity with the UK’s third largest export market.

The Prime Minister’s visit follows on from her visits to India, China, the United States and several European countries – with more than 40 bilateral meetings with international leaders in the 5 months since she took office, underlining her commitment to personally ensuring that the United Kingdom forges a bold, outward-looking role in the world as we leave the European Union.

Becoming only the third Western leader to be invited to a summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council, the Prime Minister will attend a dinner with the 6 leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman on Tuesday evening, before addressing the plenary session on Wednesday morning.

In the margins, the Prime Minister will also hold bilateral meetings with each leader at which security co-operation and trade and investment are set to dominate the discussions. The situation in Syria and Yemen and relations with Iran are also expected to be discussed.

The Prime Minister’s trip will herald the start of a series of visits from Cabinet Ministers to Gulf countries in the coming months with the Foreign Secretary due to follow the PM out to Bahrain for the annual Manama Dialogue at the end of the week, the Chancellor set to visit the region in the New Year and the Home Secretary to Saudi Arabia in March.

This sustained high-level engagement will culminate in a new annual summit between the United Kingdom and the Gulf Co-operation Council, with the first meeting to be hosted in the UK next year.

Speaking ahead of the visit, the Prime Minister said:

As the United Kingdom leaves the EU, I am determined to forge a bold, confident future for ourselves in the world.

We must look at the challenges that we, and future generations, will face and build stronger partnerships with countries that will be vital to both our security and our prosperity. That’s why I am making the Gulf my second bilateral visit outside Europe.

This year marks 200 years of relations between Bahrain and the United Kingdom and a century of ties with Saudi Arabia, but in recent years our relationship hasn’t felt as close as it is old. I want to change that.

There is so much we can do together – whether it is helping one another to prevent terrorist attacks, Gulf investment regenerating cities across the UK or British businesses helping Gulf countries to achieve their long term vision of reform.

No doubt there will be some people in the UK who say we shouldn’t seek stronger trade and security ties with these countries because of their record on human rights. But we don’t uphold our values and human rights by turning our back on this issue. We achieve far more by stepping up, engaging with these countries and working with them to encourage and support their plans for reform. That is how Britain can be a force for good in the world as well as helping to keep our people safe and create new opportunities for business.

So I hope my visit will herald the start of a new chapter in relations between the United Kingdom and the Gulf – a true strategic partnership that enables us to together seize the opportunities ahead and ensure the security and prosperity of our people.

During the visit, the Prime Minister will also meet with investors, address British troops serving in the region and talk with young people in Bahrain about the progress on reform.