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Britain to resume sale of arms to Saudi Arabia despite Yemen fears

The Guardian reported that UK to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite ‘possible’ war crimes in Yemen
Britain is to resume selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite assessing that the country could be using them to commit war crimes, the government has announced.
Britain is to resume the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the Yemeni conflict just over a year after the court of appeal ruled them unlawful because ministers had not properly assessed the risk of civilian casualties.

In a written statement, the trade secretary, Liz Truss, said sales would restart after an official review concluded there had been only “isolated incidents” of airstrikes in Yemen that breached humanitarian law.

Truss said that the undertaking given by the government after the court defeat last June “falls away”. The government had agreed not to grant any new licences to export arms or military equipment to Saudi Arabia for possible use in Yemen.

As a result, Truss said, “the government will now begin the process of clearing the backlog of licence applications for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners that has built up since 20 June last year”.

Arms trade campaigners said the decision was “disgraceful and morally bankrupt” and they were considering a legal challenge.

Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing. We will be exploring all options available to challenge it.”

Britain is a major supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia. The leading arms maker, BAE Systems, sold £15bn-worth of arms to the Gulf kingdom over the last five years, principally supplying and maintaining Tornado and Typhoon aircraft used in bombing missions.

Labour accused the government of mixed messaging, contrasting the decision with Monday’s announcement by the Foreign Office of sanctions against human rights abusers, including 20 Saudi nationals involved with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow trade secretary, said that it undermined “the government’s claim to be human rights defenders”. She added: “Britain should be working flat out to bring this terrible war to an end, not selling the arms that continue to fuel it.”

Saudi involvement in Yemen’s civil war has dropped dramatically in recent months, as Riyadh seeks to withdraw from a war that has earned it international criticism. But the country remains engaged in the conflict along with its coalition partners, despite the coronavirus pandemic, at a reduced level.

According to the Save the Children and the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project, which tracks the impact of airstrikes in Yemen, 26 children were killed and 18 injured in a single incident on 15 February this year when airstrikes hit a civilian gathering at a fighter jet crash site in Al Hayjah area in Al Maslub district.

The official review sought to examine historical examples of airstrikes from Saudi Arabia using British-licensed equipment that may have breached humanitarian law, and in particular whether there were trends in incidents where there were civilian casualties.

“This analysis has not revealed any such patterns, trends or systemic weaknesses,” Truss told MPs in the statement. “The conclusion is that these are isolated incidents,” which the minister said justified restarting exports.

A succession of leading ministers, including Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary, have been criticised for signing off export licences to Saudi Arabia for hardware that could be used in Yemen at a time when civilians were being killed in bombing.

Trust also said that the Department for International Trade would no longer appeal to the supreme court against last year’s court of appealing ruling “in light of the revised methodology which I have just described” – because the conclusion of the review meant it was no longer necessary.

A government spokesperson added: “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

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