BAE in arms talks with Saudi Arabia despite kingdom’s alleged war crimes in Yemen

British-based weapons maker hopes to seal multi-billion pound fighter jet deal – MPs say there is ‘great weight of evidence’ that UK-made weapons have been used to violate humanitarian law

Ben Chapman
Thursday 06 October 2016 17:33 BST
People gather at the site of a Saudi-led air strike in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah
People gather at the site of a Saudi-led air strike in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah (Reuters)

BAE Systems has disclosed it is in talks to secure a multi-billion pound arms contract with Saudi Arabia, despite alleged war crimes by the Middle Eastern kingdom using British-made weapons in war-torn Yemen.

“Discussions between BAE Systems, the UK Government and Saudi Arabia are progressing,” the London-headquartered defence company said in a trading update on Thursday.

BAE said it was working to “define the scope and terms of the next five-year Saudi British Defence Cooperation Programme”.

Last month MPs called for a halt to British arms exports to Saudi Arabia pending an investigation into reported breaches of humanitarian and human rights law using British-made weapons.

In a report seen by BBC’s Newsnight’s Gabriel Gatehouse, The Committees on Arms Export Controls said: “The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia.”

It said that it was “inevitable” that any such breaches would have involved British arms, meaning the UK would itself be in contravention of international law.

The UK Government said it had received assurances from Saudi Arabia that its armed forces had not committed any violations in Yemen.

The Saudi-led coalition has opened investigations into a number of incidents and has repeatedly stated it is “is committed to full respect for international humanitarian law in the conduct of our operations in Yemen”.

The current contract is a five-year programme between BAE, the UK Government and Saudi Arabia. Under the deal, BAE, which relies on the Saudi regime for more than one fifth of its revenues provides training, support and upgrades for its Hawk aircraft. BAE also hopes to sell 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets for a reported £4bn under a separate deal.

BAE also announced it was trading in line with expectations and its outlook for the year remained unchanged, with the company predicted to register a 5-10 per cent rise in earnings.

Landmine casualties rise in Yemen's Taiz

“Discussions with current and prospective operators of Typhoon aircraft continue to support group’s expectations for additional contract awards,” BAE said.

The UK has been one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to the Saudi regime for 40 years, including the notorious Al-Yamamah deal.

BAE was ordered to pay a $400m under a plea bargain with the US Justice Department in 2010 after what was described by the presiding judge as, “deception, duplicity and knowing violations of law, I think it's fair to say, on an enormous scale”.

A new deal would be a lifeline for aircraft factories in the North East of England. Last year, BAE was forced to cut 371 jobs last year as it scaled back production of its Typhoon jets from £1.3bn to £1.1bn.

However, in July it won a £2.1bn support services agreement with the Ministry of Defence and this week was awarded a further £1.3bn contract to build the replacement for the Trident nuclear submarines.

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