Government ministers reportedly came within hours of suspending controversial UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia, official documents have shown.
On 12 February last year, Sajid Javid, the then Business Secretary, threatened to end the exports by the end of the day, The Observer reports.
Court documents show that Mr Javid wanted both former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon to back continuing the exports, otherwise he would suspend them.
A briefing document seen by The Observer, written by an MoD official for Sir Michael, said: “the Business Secretary has indicated he will suspend exports if he does not have the cross-government agreement by the end of [the day].”
It came as the Government was considering how to respond to a legal challenge brought by campaigners to force ministers to stop issuing export licences for weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Part of the document states: “Following the advice of senior government lawyers and the Foreign Secretary, the Business Secretary is prepared not to suspend export licences to Saudi Arabia.”
The next paragraph added that he “is considering suspending all export licences related to the campaign in Yemen. However, in the result of an unfavourable judgement in a judicial review it is not clear which export licences would be suspended.”
The document was disclosed as part of High Court proceedings over the continued sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.
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.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade has accused the Government of unlawfully failing to suspend the sale of UK arms to Saudi Arabia, despite evidence that the Gulf state is guilty of “repeated and serious breaches” of international humanitarian law.
The group argues UK fighter jets and bombs sent to the desert kingdom have been used in the conflict in Yemen, in which thousands have died.
It recently emerged that the Government refused to stop the sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia after it was privately advised to do so by the top civil servant in charge of weapons exports control.
Edward Bell, head of the Government’s Export Control Organisation, told Mr Javid it would be “prudent and cautious” to stop selling to the Saudi regime amid widespread reports of war crimes by its military in Yemen.
The war, which has raged since March 2015, has killed more than 10,000 people, half of them civilians, and unleashed a humanitarian crisis in the poorest country in the Middle East.