The Prime Minister has rejected a call for the UK to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia – following the US’s decision to restrict arms sales to the autocracy.
The US yesterday announced it would stop a shipment of precision-guided munitions to the country following evidence of “systematic, endemic problems in Saudi Arabia’s targeting”.
There are reports of the country’s forces hitting schools, hospitals and wedding parties as it intervenes against Houthi rebels on behalf of Yemen’s beleaguered internationally recognised government.
Despite the Americans’ change of heart the UK has continued to supply similar weapons to Saudi Arabia, fuelling its campaign.
“Civilians have suffered grievously with the bombing of hospitals, of schools, of markets. The UN believes 60 per cent of civilian casualties are caused by air strikes,” the SNP’s Westminster group leader Angus Robertson asked at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
“In the last 24 hours the United States has stopped the supply of precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen. When will the UK follow suit?”
Ms May said the UK’s regime was “very strict”. “As the right honourable gentleman knows we do have a very strict regime of export licences in relation to weapons here in the United Kingdom,” she replied. “We exercise that very carefully and in recent years we have indeed refused export licences in relations to arms including to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.”
Mr Robertson, however, hit back: “The US government has just said, and I quote, that ‘systematic, endemic problems in Saudi Arabia’s targeting’ drove the US decision to halt a future weapons sale sale involving precision-guided munitions.
“The Saudis have UK-supplied precision guided Paveway IV missiles – they’re made in Scotland. The UK has licenced £3.3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the bombing campaign. What will it take for the UK to adopt an ethical foreign policy when it comes to Yemen.”
Ms May said: “As the right honourable gentleman knows the intervention in Yemen is a UN-backed intervention. As I’ve said previously, where there are allegations international humanitarian law then we require those to be properly investigated.
“We do have a relationship with Saudi Arabia – the security of the Gulf is important to us. I would remind the RHG that the intelligence and counter-terrorism links we have with Saudi Arabia has saved potentially hundreds of lives here in the UK.”
Since Saudia Arabia’s campaign started in March 2015 the UK has licensed around £3bn worth of arms including £2.2bn of so-called ML10 licence – aircraft and drones, £1.1bn ML4 licences, which include bombs and missiles, and £430,000 ML6 licences, which includes armoured vehicles and tanks.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Like the US, the UK has licensed billions of pounds worth of arms to Saudi forces. Like their US counterparts, UK arms companies have fuelled and profited from the destruction taking place.
“If even the US is questioning its support for Saudi Arabia, then why is the UK Government pulling out all stops to support them? Why are human rights regarded as less important than arms company profits?"
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies