Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has claimed that criticism of Saudi Arabia in Parliament is hindering Britain’s ability to secure sales of fighter jets to the oil-rich kingdom.
The extraordinary claim came as Sir Michael was quizzed on why a deal on Eurofighter Typhoon jets to the Middle Eastern country – currently being brokered by BAE and the British Government with Riyadh – was yet to be agreed.
The Defence Secretary said: “I have to repeat sadly that obviously other criticism of Saudi Arabia in this Parliament is not helpful and I’ll leave it there.
“We need to do everything possible to encourage Saudi Arabia towards batch two and I believe they will commit toward batch two and we continue to work away on the timing.”
Speaking to Parliament’s Defence Committee, Sir Michael continued: “Well we’ve been working extremely hard on the batch two deal and I travelled to Saudi Arabia back in September and discussed progress on the deal with my opposite number the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and we continue to press for signature of at least a statement of intent.”
His comments were immediately seized upon by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) who branded Mr Fallon’s warning to colleagues as “disgraceful”.
“He is calling on other parliamentarians to join him in putting arms sales ahead of human rights, democracy and international humanitarian law,” said Andrew Smith.
“Arms sales to human rights abusing regimes like Saudi Arabia would not be possible without the support of Ministers like Fallon. If the Government’s main concern is jobs then it should be shifting that support into more positive areas like renewable energy and low carbon technology, and other industries which are not dependent on war and conflict for profit.”
Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, described Sir Michael's comments as "extremley concerning", adding: "The sale of arms should never be prioritised over human rights, the rule of law, and the lives of innocent children in Yemen.”
Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat’s foreign affairs spokesperson, added: “There is no justification for the UK to continue selling billions of pounds worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia while they continue their deadly operation in Yemen. We must suspend arms sales to Saudi immediately.
“This is a conflict which has killed thousands of civilians and subjected millions to famine and disease. Britain is better than this, we should stand firm for our values, not sell them to the highest bidder.”
A Tory source later said Mr Fallon had been aiming to attack Labour over its approach to the country, adding: "Their policy of denouncing and disengaging with Saudi Arabia is not going to help the UK. It won't help it with defence exports and it won't help it bring about change over human rights."
During the session Sir Michael also said there had been an “extraordinary increase” in Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic. On the current military capability review, which is under way across the Ministry of Defence, he said its “principal driver” was that the threats identified in 2015 “have got markedly worse”.
“We have seen an extraordinary increase in Russian submarine activity over the last couple of years in the North Atlantic,” Sir Michael told the House of Commons Defence Committee.
“We have seen North Korea testing their missiles, we have seen cyber attacks on our own country and on our own Parliament.
“We have had terror attacks – five this year on our own streets. These threats have intensified since we carried out the 2015 [Security Defence Spending] review.
“I think it is right we look again and make sure, across the board of security and defence, we have our capabilities in the right place.”
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