Fury from opposition MPs as UK government resumes arms sales to Saudi Arabia

By James Moules

LABOUR MPs have hit out at the government’s decision to resume granting licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

In July 2019, the Court of Appeal passed a ruling that the government’s licensing of UK- build arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the Yemen intervention was unlawful without an assessment of whether was they might be used to perpetrate breaches of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

But in a recent statement, Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss declared that – following the assessment – licensing for arms sales to Saudi Arabia would resume.

This decision comes following a review into potential Saudi breaches of IHL. It concluded that “possible violations of IHL” were found in “isolated incidents.”

However, the report dismissed a broader pattern of non-compliance.

The statement reads: “On that basis, I have assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL.”

However, members of the opposition have expressed outrage at the decision.

Responding to the announcement, Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry said: “Even by this Government’s standards, their decision to resume the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen is morally indefensible, justified on the basis that the airstrikes that have killed thousands of innocent men, women and children over the past five years somehow do not represent a ‘pattern of non-compliance’ with international law.”

The ongoing civil war in Yemen began in 2015 and is contested between the Saudi-supported Hadi government and the Houthi forces.

This conflict has driven the nation into one of the most desperate humanitarian situations on the planet, with thousands left dead and many more facing famine and disease.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) slammed the government’s decision to resume licensing.

CAAT’s Andrew Smith said: “This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made have played a central role on the bombing.”

He added that the campaign is considering legal action to challenge the government’s decision.

He continued: “The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of International Humanitarian Law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places.

“The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the Government to stop supplying the weaponry?

“This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.”

The campaign pointed out that the UK has – since 2015 – licensed more than £5 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Other opposition MPs have shared their horror at the government’s decision.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy tweeted her support for Ms Thornberry’s statement, saying: “Commitment to human rights is not something to be discarded when it’s inconvenient.”

The MP for Norwich South Clive Lewis also took to Twitter to share his anger at the decision.

He said: “No words can describe how angry I am at this news. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

However, a government spokesperson defended the licensing decision, stating that potential violations of IHL would be always considered.

They said: “The Government has retaken the licensing decisions as required by the Court of Appeal.

“All existing and new applications for Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen will be assessed against the revised methodology which considers whether there is a clear risk the equipment might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law.

“The Government takes its export responsibilities seriously and assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria. We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.”

Featured Image: Alisdare Hickson@Flickr

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