UK PM May rejects headscarf during Saudi Arabia visit

epa05887827 A handout photo made available by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) shows Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef (R) welcoming British Prime Minster Theresa May (L) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 04 April 2017. May is visiting Saudi Arabia as part of her Middle East trip to boost diplomatic ties in the region following Brexit. EPA/SAUDI PRESS AGENCY HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

RIYADH: The UK Prime Minister’s hair was showing as she landed in Riyadh, eschewing the country’s conservative dress code which dictates women should wear full length robes and a headscarf.

Theresa May did not adhere to Saudi Arabia’s strict dress code for women during a meeting with the nation’s Crown Prince.

Earlier, May said she hopes to be a role model for women in Saudi Arabia, who may feel oppressed by restrictive laws such as a ban on women driving or the limits placed on women’s movement without a male guardian.

After lashing out during the National Trust Easter egg hunt row yesterday, May defended the visit and said she hopes to inspire women by showing them what they can achieve and that females can hold vital leadership roles.

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.

British Prime Minister Theresa May attends a meeting with Sarah al-Suhaimi, CEO of the Saudi Stock Exchange, in Riyadh

British Prime Minster Theresa May in Saudi Arabia

‘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.’

Previously, both Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton have also refused to adhere to the strict female dress code during visits to Saudi Arabia.

Following the meeting, May announced sweeping reforms that will modernise life and trade in Saudi Arabia will be delivered with British support.

Over the next 13 years the kingdom wants to reduce its reliance on oil exports, increase the number of women in work and boost access to culture.

The state has long-faced protests over its poor record on women’s rights and is facing intense condemnation over its military action in Yemen.

May made it clear she intends to engage with the kingdom rather than ‘standing on the sidelines and sniping’.

Today, she will meet King Salman to sign Britain up as a leading partner in the Vision 2030 programme.

May said: ‘These new partnerships, on defence and security, trade and the economy, education, healthcare, culture and sport, evidence the breadth and depth of the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

‘We are firm supporters of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, an ambitious blueprint for internal reform that aims to deliver greater inclusivity for all Saudi citizens, something we agree is essential to Saudi Arabia’s long-term stability and success.

‘As a world leader across a range of sectors, the UK is well placed to help Saudi Arabia deliver these vital reforms.’