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Theresa May: Saudi arms sales 'help keep Britain safe'

Theresa May argues that close cooperation with Saudi Arabia is essential for Britain's security [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 September, 2016

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The British Prime Minister on Wednesday defended selling arms to Saudi Arabia, insisting that close bilateral cooperation with the kingdom was "helping keep people on the streets of Britain safe".

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday resolutely defended selling arms to Saudi Arabia, insisting that close bilateral cooperation with the kingdom was "helping keep people on the streets of Britain safe".

Her comments came in response to a challenge from UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who called on May to stop the sales due to the "humanitarian devastation" caused by the Saudi military intervention in Yemen.

Corbyn spoke out after a parliamentary committee responsible for scrutinising arms exports concluded that British arms were likely being used to break international laws.

Among the charges brought against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen are the bombing of hospitals, schools and the killing of hundreds of children.

A leaked draft of the report by the Committee on Arms Exports Control reiterated calls already made by the European Parliament and the Commons International Development Select Committee to end weapons sales to the Middle Eastern kingdom.

"The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia," the report read, as quoted by the BBC.

The Labour Party leader attacked UK arms exports "to the very part of the world that most immediately threatens our [Britain's] security."

However, the British premier responded that she had already called on Saudi Arabia to investigate the allegations of war crimes in Yemen when she met with deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman at the recent G20 summit in China.

"Actually, what matters is the strength of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe," May retorted.

The UK government has insisted that it has not seen evidence of war crimes committed in Yemen by the Saudi coalition.

Last week, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reiterated this line by saying that a "key test" for halting sales had not been met.

Despite Britian insisting confidence in its oil-rich ally, some recent UK government actions suggest otherwise.

In June, the UK Foreign Office quietly corrected several ministerial statements that claimed that Saudi Arabia was not targeting civilians nor committing war crimes.

Britain signed off £3.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in the first 12 months of the Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen.

In addition, it has also signed off £430,000 of licences for tanks and armoured vehicles.

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