Britain approves record-high sales of bombs and missiles to Saudi Arabia

9 February 2021, 21:30

Emily Thornberry discusses the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia

By Kate Buck

The UK authorised £1.39bn worth of arms exports to Saudi Arabia which could be used in the war against Yemen, new figures have shown.

The sale - of which £1.36 billion was for bombs and missiles - from July to September 2020 was the largest in any quarter since the war in Yemen began.

The figure represents more than a third of the total amount of bombs and missiles exported to Saudi Arabia since the start of 2015.

It comes as new US President Joe Biden halted similar sales to Riyadh last week.

Britain had imposed temporary restrictions on arms sales, only for them to be resumed in early July after it was decided there were only “isolated incidents” of civilian casualties from bombing raids which were carried out by the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels.

Workers use a water hose to put down a fire at a vehicle oil store hit by Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen.
Workers use a water hose to put down a fire at a vehicle oil store hit by Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen. Picture: PA

On Tuesday Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told MPs the Government's commitment to a peaceful settlement in Yemen is "unwavering".

But Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy warned the Government that the UK "cannot be both peacemaker and arms dealer" in the conflict, and urged Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to cease arms exports immediately.

Speaking during an urgent question on the matter from Conservative former minister Tobias Ellwood, Ms Nandy told the Commons: "We are not a bystander to this conflict. UK arms, training and technical support sustains the war in Yemen and the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

"More than 80% of Saudi's arms imports come from the US and the UK, so the US's decision to end all support for offensive operations including relevant arms sales is welcome, but it leaves the UK dangerously out of step with our allies and increasingly isolated.

"What is worse is that the UK is the penholder for Yemen at the UN - we cannot be both peacemaker and arms dealer in this conflict."

Responding to Ms Nandy, Mr Cleverly said: "The UK takes its own arms export responsibilities very seriously and we continue to assess all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria."

Shadow International Trade Secretary, Emily Thornberry, said: “Just days after President Biden showed the moral leadership to suspend the sale of arms for use in this dreadful conflict and call for international action towards peace, the government has announced its biggest quarter yet for selling bombs and missiles to Saudi Arabia.

“It is an incredible indictment of this Tory government that, while other world leaders are striving to bring this war to an end, Boris Johnson simply seems intent on selling as many bombs and missiles as possible to Riyadh, piling ever more devastation and misery on the innocent people of Yemen.”