UK Politics

UK must stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, say MPs

Armed Yemenis Image copyright EPA

The UK must stop sales of weapons which could be used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen until an inquiry into human rights breaches is complete, MPs have said.

The Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees' joint report has evidence of breaches of international humanitarian law.

However, there is division between MPs on the issue.

The Foreign Affairs Committee's report says weapons exports should stop only if UK courts rule the sales unlawful.

The committee's Conservative chairman Crispin Blunt is understood to have drawn up the rival document after objecting to proposals to issue the call for immediate suspension through the House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC).

Reports suggested he walked out of a CAEC private meeting to prevent a vote being taken on the draft report, because he felt it was one-sided.

Image caption Crispin Blunt's committee, Foreign Affairs, issued its own simultaneous report

The move came amid claims that UK-made arms are being used in indiscriminate bombing raids on civilian targets by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shia rebels in neighbouring Yemen.

One of the attacks resulted in the deaths of 47 civilians, including 21 women and 15 children, and injuries to 58 who were killed when a wedding party at a house was struck by missiles from military aircraft.

CAEC inquiry chair Chris White said the UK had led the way in setting up international humanitarian law to govern arms sales.

But, the conflict in Yemen raised serious concerns that the country was not determined to make sure they were respected.

'Violation risk'

"During this inquiry we have heard evidence from respected sources that weapons made in the UK have been used in contravention of international humanitarian law," he said.

"The Government can no longer wait and see and must now take urgent action, halting the sale of arms to the Saudi-led coalition until we can be sure that there is no risk of violation."

He called for an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding incidents in Yemen such as allegations of the use of cluster bombs.

And he said the current system for overseeing the sale of arms must be improved.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Saudi-backed government forces are fighting Shia rebels in Yemen

The government has faced sustained pressure to suspend the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

In August, aid agency Oxfam accused the British government of "denial and disarray" over the trade.

But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has defended it, insisting the export of weapons to the country would continue.

The CAEC is made up of four parliamentary committees - Business, Innovation and Skills; Defence; Foreign Affairs; and International Development.

The Defence Committee has not said whether it intends to publish its own report.

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