Theresa May denies Brexit is forcing the UK to seek trade deals with despots

Theresa May has denied that she has been "forced to grub around the world doing trade deals with dictators and questionable regimes" as she seeks new trade opportunities ahead of Brexit.

The prime minister has faced criticism over her willingness to work with despotic leaders as she arrived in Bahrain to join Gulf state leaders at a regional summit.

The six members include Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of human rights abuses in Yemen, while hosts Bahrain restrict freedom of speech and has jailed dissenters.

Mrs May today told ITV News that it was not an "either/or" question of criticising human rights or seeking to work together as she defended her attendance.

"While we talk about trade we also talk about human rights issues", she said.

"We're here and we're fully engaged, that means we can raise these issues."

Mrs May also refused to be drawn on whether the Government was potentially willing to pay for access to the EU's tariff-free trade area, saying that she was seeking the best deal for Britain.

She also maintained that she "absolutely" has faith in her foreign secretary Boris Johnson after reports that he privately expressed support for maintaining freedom of movement after Brexit.

Mrs May is using her visit to focus on increased cooperation with the Gulf states on issues including defence, security links and international counter-terror operations.

Downing Street stressed that close security relations with the region have already produced benefits, such as in 2010 when a "printer bomb" was discovered at East Midlands Airport as a result of information received from Saudi Arabia.

But the Prime Minister's push for extra trade in the Middle East during the two-day visit was branded the "shabby face" of Brexit by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake.