British government signed off £3.3bn of arms exports to Saudi Arabia in first year of brutal Yemen bombardment

The UK has ignored claims the bombs are being used for war crimes

Jon Stone
Wednesday 27 July 2016 14:48 BST
Saudi Arabian special forces on parade with heavy weapons
Saudi Arabian special forces on parade with heavy weapons

The British government gave the go-ahead to £3.3 billion in arms exports to Saudi Arabia during the first year of that country’s bombardment of Yemen, new figures show.

The UK has ignored repeated calls to stop selling the autocratic petrostate bombs and other military equipment as allegations and reports of war crimes and the targeting of civilians continue to emerge.

Between April 2015 and March 2016 the UK signed off exports of £2.2bn worth of so-called ML10 licences – which include equipment like drones, helicopters, and other aircraft.

£1.1bn worth of ML4 licences were issued – relating to bombs, missiles, grenades, and countermeasures. The UK also signed off £430,000 of licences for armoured vehicles and tanks.

In January a UN panel accused Saudi Arabia of breaking international humanitarian law during its assault on the country. The country has blown up schools, hospitals and weddings during the bombardment, according to observers.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the SNP have all called for arms licences to be suspended, as has the European Parliament and the House of Commons’s own international development committee.

Recent moves by the Foreign Office show the Government itself is also less confident than ever that Saudi Arabia is not committing war crimes. Previous statements by the former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond were quietly corrected on the last day before parliamentary recess to water down endorsements of Saudi Arabian forces.

Mr Hammond had said the Government “have assessed that there has not been a breach of international humanitarian law by the coalition”. This was later changed to: “we have not assessed that there has been a breach of international humanitarian law by the coalition”.

Saudi Arabia is intervening in Yemen on the side of the internationally-recognised government, which has lost control of large swathes of the country to Houthi rebels.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade, which collated the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills's figures, said: “The UN has accused Saudi Arabian forces of violating international humanitarian law, the European Parliament has been calling for an arms embargo, but, as usual when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the UK government has focused on arms sales.”

The British government says it has one of the most rigorous arms export control systems in the world. David Cameron has said that Britain’s alliance with the Saudi Arabian monarchy is important for its “security”.

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