David Cameron backs 'brilliant' arms deals with Saudi Arabia... hours after Europe says we should ban them

'We've got more work to do in Saudi Arabia'

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The Independent Online

David Cameron has praised British arms companies that have done business with Saudi Arabia - hours after the European Parliament voted for an arms trade embargo with the Kingdom.

The Prime Minister made the comments during a question and answer session with BAE Systems employees in Preston.

Mr Cameron said he was proud of the "brilliant things" BAE had sold to the Middle Eastern country such as the Eurofighter Typhoon.

On Thursday morning, the European Parliament voted in favour of an EU-wide embargo.

A resolution calling for a ban on all weapons sales to the country was passed by 359 votes to 212. The non-binding motion called on member states to stop selling weapons to the country, which is currently conducting a widely-criticised military operation in neighbouring Yemen marked by high civilian casualties.

The Saudi government has bought £3 billion of UK aircraft, arms and other defence products in 2015.

Smoke rises after a Saudi-led air strike hit an army base in Sanaa, Yemen, last week

"I can see the planes being built right behind me here. We’ve got more work to do in Saudi Arabia," Mr Cameron told the assembled BAE employees.

"The Germans have done a lot of work as well. It is a collaborative project.

"We use the collective skills but also the collaborative muscles of all the governments to try and help make sure we can sell them around the world."

He announced his planned defence of BAE's international trade: "I’m going to be spending a lot of the next four months talking about this issue but I promise I will not be taking my eye off the ball, making sure the brilliant things you make here at BAE Systems are available and sold all over the world.

"We have some of the toughest rules on defence exports – and rightly so.

"But I think it is absolutely right to get behind companies like this … to safeguard jobs and and skills and investment by making sure we can sell these things around the world."

On Wednesday, an Amnesty report said the UK is setting a “dangerous precedent” to the rest of the world by continuing to supply arms to questionable regimes such as Saudi Arabia".

The report criticised the Government's continuing arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the face of claims that the country may be responsible for atrocities in Yemen.

Prime Minister David Cameron speaking in front a Eurofighter Typhoon to BAE Systems employees 

A government spokesperson told the Independent:"This is an issue we take very seriously and we regularly raise human rights concerns with the Saudi government at the highest level.

"The Prime Minister has been clear that we have one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world.

"All UK export licenses are assessed on a case by case basis and we’re satisfied that our licences for Saudi Arabia are fully in line with our international and legal obligations."

Oliver Sprague from Amnesty International told the Guardian: "The ‘brilliant things’ that David Cameron says BAE sells include massive amounts of weaponry for the Saudi Arabia military, despite Saudi Arabia’s dreadful record in Yemen.

“Thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed and injured in devastating and indiscriminate Saudi coalition air strikes, and there’s strong evidence that further weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are not just ill-advised but actually illegal."

Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn has called for a review of arms export licences as a result of the air strikes in Yemen, as they suggest international law has been broken.