J.B. Kelly, thou shouldst be living at this hour! (If you don't get the reference, see my 2009 obit, "J.B Kelly, 84: The last Imperial Briton.")
Back in 1968, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Defence Secretary Denis Healey announced that for budgetary and strategic reasons, Britain would be withdrawing from its remaining bases and colonial relationships in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, many of which dated back to the days when Britain's control of India required chains of defense positions along the routes of empire. Aden had already been given up with the independence of South Yemen in 1967, and the Suez Canal itself, of course, in 1956 (though from 1967 the Canal itself was closed to traffic until after the 1973 war). The policy meant pulling British bases out of Malaysia, Singapore, the Maldives, and the Gulf states, and granting independence to those Gulf states that had remained protectorates. This was known as the policy of retreating from "East of Suez," (the phrase was Kipling's), and led to the formal independence of Bahrain, Qatar, and the formation of the UAE in 1970-71.
In addition, the British withdrew forces from Malaysia, Singapore, and the Maldives, leaving no formal bases between Cyprus and Hong Kong.
British advisers and seconded officers remained influential in some of the newly-independent states (some until quite recently), and British special forces (along with the RAF and Jordanian and Iranian troops) assisted Oman in putting down the Dhofar rebellion down to 1975, but the era of permanent British bases "East of Suez" ended in 1971.
Well, they're baaack, or soon will be.
in The Guardian's words, "will also be a base for much larger ships including destroyers and aircraft carriers."
The more Tory Telgrraph offers its interpretation here.
Hammond reportedly noted that Britain and France are seeking to play a bigger role in Gulf Defense now due to the US "pivot' towards East Asia. (France has an air base at Dhafra in the UAE.) Ironically, the large US role in the Gulf was originally developed to fill the vacuum created by the British fallback of 1971.
Some critics have characterized the announcement as a "reward" from Bahrain for Britain's silence about Bahraini human rights issues post-Arab Spring. Bahrain is, of course also the headquarters off the US Fifth Fleet.
Patrick Cockburn offers an example of this criticism in his "Building a British naval base in Bahrain is a 'symbolic choice' – for no clear reason" in