UK Approved $1.9bn of Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia since Ban Lifted
The United Kingdom signed off on arms exports worth nearly 1.4 billion pounds [$1.9bn] to Saudi Arabia between July and September last year following the lifting of a ban on weapons sales to the Gulf country – a move critics slammed as “immoral” amid the continuing aggression on Yemen.
The publishing of the figures by the UK’s Department for International Trade on Tuesday came days after new United States President Joe Biden said his country was ending all support “for offensive operations”, including “relevant arms sales”.
The announcement prompted mounting calls for the UK – the US’s main ally – to do the same, but British officials have so far refused to follow suit.
The UK’s previous moratorium on arms sales to Saudi Arabia came into effect in June 2019 after its High Court issued a landmark ruling forcing officials to pause sales amid concern the weapons would be used in violation of international humanitarian law.
A subsequent government review concluded there had been “isolated incidents” of possible violations by Saudi forces in Yemen, but “no clear risk” of future serious breaches. Officials announced in July 2020 that the UK would resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia – its biggest weapons buyer – in the wake of the review’s findings.
In the three-month period following the restart, the UK authorized weapons exports worth 1.39 billion pounds [$1.9bn], according to the government figures. The category of arms including missiles and bombs accounted for 1.36 billion pounds [$1.88bn] of the sales, although the figures did not state which manufacturers received the export authorizations.
Anti-arms trade campaigners slammed the sales as “shocking” and said the figures “illustrate the UK government’s determination to keep supplying arms at any cost”.
“UK-made weapons have played a devastating role in the Saudi-led attacks on Yemen, and the humanitarian crisis they have created, yet the UK government has done everything it can to keep the arms sales flowing,” Sarah Waldron, a spokesperson for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade [CAAT], said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Now even the US is curbing its arms sales, while the UK government is continuing to fuel the war,” CAAT’s Waldron said. “They must change course now and work to support meaningful peace.”
Martin Butcher, international aid group Oxfam’s conflict adviser, said UK politicians had “once again … put profit before Yemeni lives” and branded the arms sales documented on Tuesday as “immoral”.
“Arms exports to Saudi Arabia should stop immediately,” Butcher said in a statement. “Yemen is living through the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with two-thirds of the population reliant on food aid and yet people are profiteering from the misery caused by these arms sales.”