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The New Arab Staff

UK authorised £1.4bn of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, refuses to suspend exports

The UK has resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Date of publication: 10 February, 2021

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The UK has refused to follow America's example and halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia.



The UK has authorised the export of £1.4bn of weapons to Saudi Arabia since July, coming after ministers refused to follow the US decision to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia over their potential use in Yemen.

Human rights groups and campaigners criticised this decision and accused ministers of "putting profit before Yemeni lives", especially after the UK claimed there were only "isolated incidents" of civilian casualties due to attacks led by the Saudi coalition fighting the Houthis.

Figures released on Tuesday show that in the period between July and September, the UK authorised £1.39bn worth of arms exports – most of which included bombs and missiles.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade told the Guardian the data showed "the UK government’s determination to keep supplying arms at any cost". 

She went on to add that the UK’s actions were tantamount to "continuing to fuel the war".

US breaks away

On Monday, the UK Foreign Office Minister, James Cleverly, said he had noted the US review but claimed that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries are done with "great care" to ensure they did not lead to any breaches of humanitarian law.

"The decisions the US takes on matters of arms sales are decisions for the US.

"The UK takes its own arms export responsibilities very seriously, and we continue to assess all arms export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria," he said.

Saudi Arabia represented 40 percent of the volume of UK arms exports between 2010 and 2019.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the defence committee, pushed the UK "to align itself fully with its closest security ally and end similar arms exports connected to the war… The US reset is very much to be welcomed and poses our first big test as to what global Britain means in practice".

Washington's suspension of arms sales was designed to create the conditions for talks between the warring parties, Ellwood added.

Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, told MPs "the UK arms trading and technical support sustains the war in Yemen… The US decision on arms sales leaves the UK dangerously out of step with our allies and increasingly isolated."

The opposition bench politician said: "The UK cannot be both peacemaker and arms dealer in this conflict."

Last week, US President Joe Biden ended US support for Saudi Arabia's devastating war in Yemen, which he said "has created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe".

He appointed a US special envoy for Yemen, veteran diplomat Timothy Lenderking, to support UN efforts to reach a ceasefire and revive peace talks between the government and Houthi rebels who control much of the country, including the capital Sanaa.

"This war has to end," Biden said.

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