EU Out campaign attacks European Parliament for recommending Saudi Arabia arms embargo

The European Parliament voted for an embargo on Thursday

Jon Stone
Friday 26 February 2016 10:41 GMT
A European Union membership referendum will be held on 23 June of this year
A European Union membership referendum will be held on 23 June of this year (Getty Images)

The European Parliament’s support for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia shows why Britain must leave the European Union, one of the two main EU referendum “leave” campaigns has said.

Leave.EU, which is backed by Nigel Farage, said the EP’s 359 to 212 vote to back an EU-wide end to weapons sales to the autocratic petro-state risked starting a “damaging trade war”.

Andy Wigmore, head of communications for the group, said Saudi Arabian arms sales were worth billions of pounds to the British defence industry.

“The MEP who led the vote conceded that the Saudis told him they may cut off relations in retaliation, but brushed it off by saying ‘I hope these are just words’”, he said, arguing that the motion betrayed “an extraordinarily careless attitude”.

“It’s not that there may not potentially be a case for sanctions, but it seems bizarre for the EU to impose them on Saudi at the same time it has lifted them for Iran, and very shortly after signing a trade agreement with Vietnam, which has a record described as ‘dire in all key areas’ by Human Rights Watch.

“Plainly, we need to take back control of our trade policy and have it set in a consistent way by our own elected institutions. Contracting it out Brussels has held us back from making important deals with our old partners in countries like Australia and India and is embroiling us in fights we might not have chosen for ourselves.”

The European Parliament’s non-binding motion calls on member states to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, which is currently conducting a widely-criticised military operation in neighbouring Yemen marked by high civilian casualties.

Saudi Arabia is intervening in Yemen to fight Houthi rebels, who control the country’s capital but are not internationally recognised as its government.

Criticisms of the country’s military operation have however included the bombing of multiple hospitals run by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières and the deaths of thousands of civilians, including 130 at a single wedding.

While international observers have recognised abuses on all sides, in late December UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said that a “disproportionate” number of attacks of civilians in Yemen had come from the Saudi-led invasion force.

“I have observed with extreme concern the continuation of heavy shelling from the ground and the air in areas with high a concentration of civilians as well as the perpetuation of the destruction of civilian infrastructure – in particular hospitals and schools – by all parties to the conflict, although a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by Coalition forces,” Mr Zeid said.

The UN has also said Saudi Arabia is contributing to a “humanitarian disaster” in Yemen.

The European Parliament voted for an embargo on Thursday
The European Parliament voted for an embargo on Thursday (EPA)

The Government must approve all arms exports by UK companies abroad. Overall UK licences granted to military equipment to the country are £6.7 billion since David Cameron took office in 2010 and £2.8 billion since the bombing of Yemen began.

Recent opinion polling by Opinium found that 62 per cent of UK adults oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with only 16 per cent supporting them.

The UK Parliament’s International Development Committee earlier this month said the UK should suspend all arms sales to Saudi.

David Cameron has defended British support to the operation, arguing that the UK’s relationship with the petro-state was “important for our security”.

A Government spokesperson said of arms exports to Saudi Arabia: “We operate one of the most rigorous and transparent arms export control regimes in the world with each licence application assessed on a case by case basis, taking account of all relevant information, to ensure compliance with our legal obligations. No licence is issued if it does not meet these requirements.

“We regularly raise with Saudi Arabian-led coalition and the Houthis, the need to comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen. We monitor the situation carefully and have offered the Saudi authorities advice and training in this area.”

Britain will hold an in-out referendum on whether to remain in the European Union on 23 June this year.

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