UK party leaders must address this foreign policy crisis in the election campaign

A number of policy issues will no doubt dominate the campaign for the UK’s December 12 election. Brexit. The NHS. Education.

While it would be wrong (and even irresponsible) to dismiss these domestic issues as trivialities, the candidates must also address foreign policy and present a vision for Britain’s place in the global community. 

There is no shortage of crises and controversies around the world on which the next Prime Minister must take a stand. Syria. Venezuela. Korea. Sudan. Kashmir. 

Along with these and many others, there is one critical issue that must be addressed by any aspiring occupant of Number 10 – Britain’s role in Saudi Arabia’s brutal intervention the Yemen conflict.

Yemen has been locked in a devastating civil war since 2015 in the wake of uprisings as part of the so-called Arab Spring.

The war, fought between the Houthi forces and a Saudi-led coalition, has seen mass poverty, famine and suffering inflicted on the people of Yemen.

In its 2018 report on the country, Amnesty International asserted that all parties involved in the conflict have engaged in mass human rights abuses, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

The organisation also highlights Britain’s role in providing arms to the Saudis in spite of these human rights violations as part of its 2017/18 report on the UK.

In June, the Court of Appeals ruled that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen were unlawful, lacking an assessment of whether these incidents breaching international law.

In spite of this, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss later admitted that the government had breached the court order and had issued further equipment licences to the Saudis.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “We are always being told how rigorous and robust arms export controls supposedly are, but this shows that nothing could be further from the truth. The system is clearly broken and unfit for purpose. This is symptomatic of a policy that puts arms sales ahead of human rights.

“Even if it was in error, it is clear that the Government cannot be trusted to uphold the ruling of the Court of Appeal. There can be no more excuses. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in a war that has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. 

“Despite the destruction, the Government has shown a total disregard for the people of Yemen. There must be an immediate embargo on all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the wider coalition bombing Yemen.”

In its 2017 manifesto, the Labour Party committed to immediately end arms sales for use in the Yemen conflict and demanded a UN led investigation into claims of International Humanitarian Law violations.

The Liberal Democrats also said they would suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia and work with the international community towards a peace process.

The Conservative Party made no such commitment.

Mr Smith added: “Regardless of which party wins the election, there must be an end to the UK’s political and military support for the brutal Saudi regime. Over the last four years, UK-made weapons have played a central role in creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen. 

“For decades, UK governments of all political colours have offered an uncritical support to the Saudi dictatorship. It is long past time for that support to end, and for human rights to be put ahead of arms company profits.”

Voters should look carefully at foreign policy proposals when the party manifestos are published in the next few weeks.

Brexit is not the only issue that will determine Britain’s role in the international community. Party leaders should commit to take a moral stance on this grave humanitarian crisis in which the nation has a profound level on involvement. 

Image courtesy of Felton Davis @ Flickr

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