JEREMY Corbyn has called for a foreign policy rethink “based on peace, based on justice, based on human rights” while deploring the UK government’s continued licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Speaking at a Stop the War Coalition online event, the former British Labour leader deplored the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by the nation’s civil war – and expressed his desire to see an end to British arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
He recounted his time raising the issue during his time as Leader of the Opposition, saying: “An awful lot of people simply do not realise what is happening in Yemen at the moment and Britain’s complicity in it. When I proposed a motion by me, as Leader of the Opposition, to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and cited the reason being the war in Yemen, I was strongly opposed by the Conservative majority in the House of Commons – I expected that.
“What I hadn’t actually bargained for was the huge level of opposition of a lot of Labour MPs to this proposal. I questioned them as to why, and I gave all the reasons you would expect as to why we should be suspending arms sales and they came back all the time with jobs, constituency interest and so on. Some came back with rather arcane so-called strategic interests.
“We have to propose a foreign policy agenda that is based on peace, based on justice, based on human rights – which is exactly what I’m doing with the Project for Peace and Justice. But we also have to ensure that in the economy of the future, we don’t leave behind communities, some of whom are dependent on arms manufacture. We invest in alternatives for them to do, so we’re not threatening people’s livelihood at the same time. That way we’ll get a hearing on our wider policies.”
The Campaign Against Arms Trade estimates that – since the Saudi intervention in the Yemen conflict began – the UK has licensed £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (which includes aircraft, helicopters and drones) and £3.9 billion worth of ML4 licences (which included grenades, bombs and missiles).
The war is being fought between the Hadi government (which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition) and the Houthi forces – the latter of which currently controls the Yemeni capital of Sana’a.
The Houthi are a Shia Islamist militia who are widely alleged to have links with Iran, though the Iranian government denies this. Their ideology comes from an ultra-conservative religious background fiercely opposed to the Wahhabi theology dominant in Saudi Arabia, which is a branch of Sunni Islam. They also appeal to Yemeni nationalism and resistance to outside forces, and have been compared to Lebanon’s Hezbollah in their strategy.
The conflict in Yemen has sparked a severe humanitarian crisis – which many observers have described as one of the worst in the world today, with many Yemenis facing disease and famine.
While in 2019 the UK Court of Appeals ruled that the licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful without an assessment of whether they may be used in breaches of international law, the government resumed arms sales in 2020 following assessment.
A government spokesperson told Redaction Politics: “We take our export responsibilities seriously and will continue to assess all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria.”
Conservative journalist Peter Oborne also spoke at the event. He said that his conservative values lead him to believe that Britain can be a force for good in the world, but decried the country’s role in the Yemen conflict.
He said: “The terrible truth of the matter is that our role in the Yemen conflict has been a matter of utter national shame, and to go around claiming that we’re a power for good in the world and having the audacity to point to Yemen as an example of this – the British Foreign Office has clearly gone very wrong.
“And I think that we do need to highlight the blatant hypocrisy and sheer cynicism Foreign Secretary Raab and his Middle East minister called Cleverly – and of course Boris Johnson, who let’s not forget was Foreign Secretary towards the start of this terrible conflict and didn’t lift a finger.
“Worth remembering, Britain is penholder at the United Nations as part of our role on the Security Council and that means we play a very serious role in monitoring policy, in creating policy – we can shape it. And we’ve abused that role in Britain.”
Shortly after he assumed the US presidency, Joe Biden’s administration announced a temporary freeze on American arms sales to Saudi Arabia and withdrew his country’s support for the Kingdom’s campaign in Yemen.
Numerous campaigners and politicians have called on Britain to follow suit.
Speaking at the Stop the War event, Labour MP Zarah Sultana commented: “When even US foreign policy shames Britain, you know how bad things are. The Conservatives like to boast about Britain’s role on the world stage, they claim that the UK is a champion of justice and democracy across the globe. Their record in Yemen is just a latest example of what a cruel joke that really is.”
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