By James Moules
THE BRITISH government must follow Joe Biden in ending support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, campaigners have urged.
President Biden recently announced that the US would no longer support its allies’ intervention in the brutal war in Yemen, saying: “This war has to end. And to underscore our commitment, we’re ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales.”
War in Yemen has torn through the country since 2014 – and tens of thousands are reported to have lost their lives both in fighting and due to famine and disease. Saudi Arabia – backed by the United States – has been intervening in the war agains the Houthi forces.
However, campaigners have long been urging the US and UK governments to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia due to the humanitarian crisis.
Following Biden’s withdrawal of support for the war, Sarah Waldron of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said: “The US Government is the biggest arms dealer in the world, so this could be an important step towards ending this terrible war. It also puts the spotlight firmly on to the UK government and companies that have armed, supported and enabled the brutal bombardment.
“Saudi-led forces have killed thousands of civilians and bombed schools, hospitals and homes. No matter how dire the crisis has become, they have been able to count on the uncritical political and military support of the UK government. That support must end, and so must have the arms sales that have done so much damage.”
Several opposition MPs have also called for action from the UK government.
Anna McMorrin, the shadow minister for international development, told the Guardian: “The government has been worryingly quiet on [Yemen], with messaging that contrasts starkly from the Biden administration. Given the UK’s role as penholders on Yemen at the UN, the government should work proactively with the US, as well as with our international partners, to bring about a ceasefire and a lasting peace as soon as possible.”
Labour’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy also tweeted: “The UK needs to stop arming Saudi Arabia and push for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.”
Even former Conservative defence minister Tobias Ellwood told the government to “follow suit and rethink military sales” after the announcement.
The CAAT estimates that the UK has licensed some £5.4 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.
In 2019, the UK Court of Appeals ruled that the government’s licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia without assessment of whether they may be used in breaches of international humanitarian law.
However, in 2020 the government resumed arms sales following a review – and insisted that licensing decisions would be made in compliance with the Court.
However, a UK government spokesperson defended Britain’s record, saying: “The UK takes its arms export responsibilities seriously and we will continue to assess all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria.”
This article was updated to include the government’s statement.
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