UK Government refuses to give MPs a vote on arms sales to Saudi Arabia as US Senate discusses boycott

US senators are set to vote on a billion dollar sales of Abrams battle tanks to the autocracy

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The Government has refused to give MPs a vote on whether to keep selling arms to Saudi Arabia – despite senators in the United States moving to consider a ban. 

The American upper house is expected to vote on the measure after a bi-partisan push in the Senate by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

The Saudi autocracy has been accused of committing war crimes during its military operation against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, where it has bombs schools, hospitals, and wedding parties, according to eyewitnesses.

Britain has however sold £3.3 billion worth of arms to the country since the bombardment began between April 2015 and March 2016. Ministers have repeatedly rejected calls for a pause in the weapons sales, arguing that the Saudi Arbians alone are best place to assess whether they have committed warcrimes.  

Now action on the other side of the Atlanic is putting ministers the UK’s Department for International Trade under pressure to give MPs a vote on the issue – pressure they have so far resisted.

A leaked draft report from the Committee on Arms Export Control recommended an end to the sales last week. If the report is finalised the MPs on that committee would add their names to recommendations by the House of Commons International Development Committee who have also urged and end of the weapons sales.

Green party leader Caroline Lucas is among those who believes British MPs should be given a say on the issue.

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Senator Rand Paul is part of a cross-party attempt to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia from the United States (Getty)

“Britain’s continued arming of Saudi Arabia is a stain on our reputation on the world stage. While they continue to breach international law in Yemen, we are aiding and abetting their wrongdoing by supplying them with military equipment. MPs should be given a chance to debate and vote on our continued arms sales to this brutal regime,” she told The Independent.

“The arms export industry should be brought out of the shadows and subject to proper democratic scrutiny – then MPs will have the chance to clean up our record by stopping further sales to repressive regimes.”

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Caroline Lucas, the Green Party's co-leader, wants a vote in the UK (Getty Images)

In the US senate, two Republicans – Rand Paul and Mike Lee – have teamed up with two Democrats – Chris Murphy and Al Franken – to propose a resolution to block a billion dollar sales of Abrams battle tanks to Saudi Arabia.

“The Obama Administration has recently offered over a billion dollars in weaponry to Saudi Arabia, and I think it’s in America’s best interest to call a timeout on this sale,” Mr Franken said.

Mr Paul said: “Selling $1.15 billion in tanks, guns, ammunition, and more to a country with a poor human rights record embroiled in a bitter war is a recipe for disaster and an escalation of an ongoing arms race in the region.”

64 members of the US House of Representative have also signed a letter to President Obama asking him to reconsider the sale.

The US Arms Export Control Act of 1976 allows Senators to force a vote on any arm arms sale signed off by the US President providing certain conditions have been met. No corresponding provision for a binding vote exists in UK legislation but ministers can call one if they choose.

A British Government spokesperson would not commit to a vote in the House of Commons when asked. 

“The Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. Each licence application is assessed careful against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria,” she said.

“We will not grant a licence unless these criteria are met. The Government is satisfied that extant licences are compliant with these criteria.”

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