UK Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia: “Putting Profit...
The conflict in Yemen has drawn attention to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been accused of committing violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) during its military operations in Yemen. The UK is not a member of the Saudi-led Coalition but Saudi armed forces are using UK built and licenced arms in Yemen, including Typhoon aircraft, missiles and bombs.
Campaign groups actively lobby MPs to make this point, but the Government has resisted pressure from opposition parties and backbench MPs to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. One group, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) took the UK government to court to obtain a Judicial Review of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The High Court rejected their claim in 2017. However, in June 2019 the Court of Appeal concluded the Government’s decision-making process for granting export licences was “irrational” and therefore “unlawful” .
The Government responded by announcing it would review all licences and not grant any new licences for export to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners that might be used in the conflict in Yemen while it considered the implications of the judgement.
In September 2019, the International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, apologised after finding the Government had granted new export licences to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, therefore breaching the undertaking given to the Court of Appeal. Liz Truss announced on 7 July 2020 that the Government will resume granting licences for export to Saudi Arabia.
In October 2020 Campaign Against the Arms Trade filed a judicial review application into the legality of the UK government’s decision to renew arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. In January 2021, the new US administration announced that it was suspending some licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, adding to the pressure on the UK Government.
The UK have refused to join the US in suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia for offensive use in Yemen. The UK Foreign Office minister, James Cleverly, said he had noted the US review, but said British arms sales licences were issued with great care.
The shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, told MPs “the UK arms trading and technical support sustains the war in Yemen … The US decision on arms sales leaves the UK dangerously out of step with our allies and increasingly isolated.” Highlighting the UK’s role as the UN’s pen holder on Yemen, ie the council member that leads negotiations and drafts legislation, she said: “The UK cannot be both peacemaker and arms dealer in this conflict.”
Speaking in the Commons, Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the defence committee, urged the UK “to align itself fully with its closest security ally and end similar arms exports connected to the war … The US reset is very much to be welcomed and poses our first big test as to what global Britain means in practice.”
The UK is fuelling the deadly conflict in Yemen through reckless arms sales to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition – these sales break UK laws and the global Arms Trade Treaty it once championed.
Saudi Arabia represented 40% of the volume of UK arms exports between 2010 and 2019.
The UK signed off on arms exports worth nearly 1.4 billion pounds ($1.9bn) to Saudi Arabia between July and September last year following the lifting of a ban on weapons sales to the Gulf country.
“UK-made weapons have played a devastating role in the Saudi-led attacks on Yemen, and the humanitarian crisis they have created, yet the UK government has done everything it can to keep the arms sales flowing,” Sarah Waldron, a spokesperson for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), said in a statement. Martin Butcher, international aid group Oxfam’s conflict adviser, said UK politicians had “once again … put profit before Yemeni lives”
The coalition has been assisted by several Western powers, including the UK and the US. According to CAAT, the UK has authorised arms sales worth 6.8 billion pounds ($9.3bn) to Saudi Arabia since March 2015.
“The UK is totally isolated on the world stage in its unmoving support for a regime that is a serial human rights violator,” said Alyn Smith MP, the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesperson.