Tories slammed over ‘disgraceful’ decision to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The UK has licensed at least £5.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the conflict began in March 2015 – but the real figure could be far higher.

Lawyers representing Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) have written to the UK Government demanding answers about its recent decision to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia. 

The letter, published by CAAT, includes 15 questions for the Government relating to how it reached its decision.

The decision to resume sales was announced last month in a written statement by the Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss. The Government concluded that any violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) committed by the Saudi coalition were ‘isolated incidents’, despite the fact that hundreds of attacks on residential areas, schools, hospitals, civilian gatherings, and agricultural land and facilities have been documented.

Campaigners are asking ministers questions including how many of the so-called “isolated incidents” the Government considered as part of its IHL assessment.

In June 2019, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of international humanitarian law.

The Government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner. This ruling did not stop arms from being transferred under extant licences.

Even so, in the aftermath of the Court ruling, the Government admitted multiple breaches of the ban on new licences.

A parliamentary question by Zara Sultana revealed that the Ministry of Defence has identified over 500 possible breaches of international humanitarian law by Saudi forces.

Yet since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed at least £5.4 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones), and £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures).

In reality the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system. The UK’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems, has made £15 billion in revenue from services and sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015.

CAAT is considering all legal options to challenge the Government’s decision.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The Government’s decision to resume sales to the Saudi regime is disgraceful. It will only prolong the war in Yemen and increase the bloodshed. The justifications offered have failed to answer a number of serious questions about how this immoral decision could possibly have been reached. 

“The decisions that are being made by Liz Truss and her colleagues are matters of life and death for people in Yemen. The Government’s position has shown total contempt for the people suffering as a result of the crisis, while offering uncritical political and military support to the dictatorship that is bombing them.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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