Jeremy Corbyn accuses UK military of 'directing war' by Saudi Arabia in Yemen

Prime Minister is criticised for 'colluding in what the United Nations say is evidence of war crimes', in fierce Commons clashes

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 07 March 2018 11:57
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Jeremy Corbyn accuses UK of 'directing' war in Yemen

Jeremy Corbyn claimed Britain is “directing the war” being waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, as he clashed with Theresa May before her controversial meeting with the country’s crown prince.

The Prime Minister was accused of “colluding in what the United Nations say is evidence of war crimes”, in fierce clashes over Britain’s close links with the oil-rich kingdom.

The Labour leader urged her to use the meeting – the start of a three-day state visit in all but name – to “halt the arms supplies and demand an immediate ceasefire in Yemen”.

“A humanitarian disaster is now taking place in Yemen. Millions face starvation, 600,00 children have cholera because of the Saudi led bombing campaign and the blockade,” he said.

“Germany has suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but British arms sales have sharply increased and British military advisers are directing the war.”

Despite Tory jeers, Mr Corbyn continued: "It cannot be right that her government is colluding in what the United Nations says is evidence of war crimes.”

But Ms May mounted a staunch defence of the relationship which, through intelligence saving, “has saved the lives potentially of hundreds of people in this country”.

The Saudi action in Yemen was at the request of a legitimate government, backed by the UN security council and “as such we support it”, she said.

And she added: “Where there are allegations that activity has taken place that is not in line with international humanitarian law, they investigate that and they learn the lessons from it.”

After Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Corbyn’s claim about UK military advisers was rubbished by Alistair Burt, a Foreign Office minister, who said: “It’s just not true that they are directing the war in Yemen.

“They have given advice in relation to how targeting is done, to make sure that civilians are not involved.”

In the Commons, the Prime Minister said she had urged the Saudis to end their blockades of ports in Yemen during a visit to the kingdom in December, after which they “did just that”.

“This vindicates the engagement that we have with Saudi Arabia, to be able to sit down with them,” she argued.

Mohammed bin Salman's trip is set to be dominated by protests over the country's role in the bloody conflict in Yemen, where it leads a coalition of forces against Houthi rebels in a three-year civil war.

There is also huge controversy over what Mr Corbyn called the “shocking abuse of human rights in Saudi Arabia, with indiscriminate arrests and executions widespread”.

The prince will receive red-carpet treatment, including lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace and dinner with the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, as well as talks with senior ministers and national security officials.

Mr Corbyn also accused the government of suppressing a report into suspicions that the Saudis are funding extremism in Britain, demanding to know when it would be published.

But the Prime Minister said the study had established that, “contrary to perception”, most support for UK extremists came “from domestic, not overseas sources”.

Senior MPs who were privy counsellors had been allowed to read the report, she pointed out, although some parts were not published.

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