Ministers were wined-and-dined by the arms trade at a £450-a-head banquet on Tuesday night just hours after MPs called for a halt to weapons sales to autocratic Saudi Arabia.
Parliament’s International Development Committee yesterday said the UK should suspend all arms sales to Saudi, which has been accused by the UN of targeting civilians and contributing to a “humanitarian disaster” in Yemen.
The same day MPs released their report calling for action against Saudi, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and other ministers attended the ADS trade association dinner at the Hilton.
The ADS Group, a trade body for the defence industry, said in a statement posted on social media that Mr Fallon had provided “tremendous support” for its operations at the dinner.
Despite calls from the UN, aid groups, and now Parliament, ministers have insisted that selling bombs to the petro-state is not problematic. David Cameron has also personally endorsed the present of UK military advisors working alongside the dictatorship’s military.
The British arms trade has cashed in on Saudi’s ongoing military operation in Yemen, with sales of bombs surging from £9 million to over £1 billion in just three months last year.
Members of ADS include BAE Systems, which builds the Eurofighter and the Tornado, both of which are being used in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign.
Tremendous support for all our industries from SoS for defence, Michael Fallon at our dinner this evening.— ADS Group (@ADSgroupUK) February 2, 2016
Raytheon UK, another member, makes the Paveway guided bombs which are being used in the assault, while MBDA makes Brimstone missiles, which Saudi Arabia also has stockpiles of.
Civilian targets hit by Saudi Arabia include two international hospitals operated by Médecins Sans Frontières, a wedding, and at leave five schools. Saudi Arabia says it does not target civilians.
Good relations with ministers are valuable for the arms industry because ministers ultimately sign off all arms export licences required by law to send defence equipment abroad. Ministers are currently resisting pressure to add Saudi Arabia to the blacklist of countries.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
Last year the banquet was attended by over 40 MPs, with the full scale of attendance this year still not known.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said the dinner illustrated the political connections between the arms trade and politicians.
“The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is getting worse. 14 million Yemeni people are facing food insecurity and 1.4 million children are acutely malnourished,” he said.
“At the same time, arms dealers that are profiting from the devastation will be swilling champagne and sitting down to dinner with many of the politicians that support them.
“The fact that over 40 MPs attended as guests of arms companies and arms trade lobby groups last year is a disgrace and shows the extent of the arms trade's connections and political lobbying.”
Aerospace, Defence and Security (ADS) trade association event was £252 for members and £462 for non members, according to a booking form of the event.
When previously asked about arms export control to Saudi Arabia, a Government spokesperson said: “We operate one of the most rigorous and transparent arms export control regimes in the world with each licence application assessed on a case by case basis, taking account of all relevant information, to ensure compliance with our legal obligations. No licence is issued if it does not meet these requirements.
“We regularly raise with Saudi Arabian-led coalition and the Houthis, the need to comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen. We monitor the situation carefully and have offered the Saudi authorities advice and training in this area."
In reference to Mr Fallon's attendence at the dinner, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “It is nonsense to suggest that this engagement is directly linked to exports to one country. This is the annual dinner of a forum that represents hundreds of organisations that sustain tens of thousands of UK jobs across aerospace, space and defence.”