British foreign secretary Philip Hammond accepted a really expensive watch from Saudi Arabia

Philip Hammond accepted a watch worth almost £2,000 from a Saudi sheikh, despite there being a ban on ministers taking gifts worth more than £140, it was claimed on Sunday.

The foreign secretary has argued that he accepted the £1,950 watch in his capacity as a constituency MP, which meant the ministerial rule did not apply, the Sunday Times reported.

The watch was given to him by one of Saudi Arabia's richest men, Sheikh Marei Mubarak Mahfouz bin Mahfouz, after an event in the minister's constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge this summer.

Mr Hammond said the June event, an unveiling of a statue of the Queen, was a "local commemoration" and that he had sought official advice on the gift.

The gift will add to mounting criticism of the government's - and Conservative Party's - relationship with the Saudis.

Last week, the former Liberal Democrat leader, Lord Ashdown, said British foreign policy was being influenced via "the closeness between the Conservative Party and rich Arab Gulf individuals".

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