Last week’s Court of Appeal’s verdict was that the Government’s decision to continue to award these licences was “unlawful”. The House of Lords International Relations Committee which has concluded that the UK’s weapons exports “are highly likely to be the cause of significant civilian casualties in Yemen”. It is unforgivable that no one in the Tory Party, after the near universal condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s actions (including dozens of other countries), continues to act as enabler to this murderous regime.
The Court’s ruling has led to the prohibitions of new exports licences, but shockingly the Government won’t revoke current ones because it wants to appeal the ruling.
Last year it was reported that according to the Department for International Trade led by Liam Fox, the UK exported arms and equipment worth at least £1bn to Saudi Arabia last year. Since the Saudi-led war in Yemen began in 2015, UK arms exporters have earned over £4.6bn from sales to the regime.
The impact of the Government’s disregard for humanitarian checks and balances in its arms exports has had a direct human cost by enabling a regime that the UN has said is directly responsible for tens of thousands of civilian casualties:
- According to this UN data, about 14 million people – half of Yemen’s population – are currently at risk of famine, largely because of Saudi border blockades designed to weaken the Houthis.
- 22 million Yemenis (79% of the population) are in need of aid and protection.
- Nearly half of all children aged between six months and five years are chronically malnourished. More than 1 million cases of cholera identified since April 2017.
- 17,640 UN documented civilian casualties in Yemen, including 6,872 dead and 10,768 injured. The majority of these casualties – 10,852 – resulted from airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition.
SNP MPs have raised arms exports with Saudi Arabia over a dozen times in the chamber over the last year, including at PMQs. Chris Law last raised the issue on Tuesday (25 June) in the Chamber during FCO Questions, and called for the UK to take greater responsibility for its support for a Saudi regime that has killed hundreds if not thousands of civilians.
The defence industry is an important sector, but the standards in the arms export regime need to be rigorously adhered to. The export of arms must only be done in line with EU and UN guidelines which are clear that it is prohibited to export arms wherever there is demonstrable proof that they could be used to violate human rights – this should be self-evident, but the UK Government appears determined to put profit before morality.