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News > World

UK Defends Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia During Debate on Yemen

  • Rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2015.

    Rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 September 2018

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt defended Britain’s stance on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and said the war in Yemen has no simple answers.

U.K. government defended selling arms to Saudi Arabia during an emergency meeting Tuesday. The meeting was called by opposition MPs to discuss the situation in Yemen and pressure the government to stop selling arms to the Arab kingdom.


Spain Cancels Arms Sales to Saudis Over Yemen Attacks

“There is no reason to not support an ally (Saudi Arabia) under fire from missiles,” Burt told the House of Commons. He also said that the British government believes Saudi Arabia has not breached any international law and the MPs should acknowledge the threat posed by Houthi rebels.

Condemning Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates' actions in Yemen, the Scottish Nationalist Party MP Alison Thewliss said, “Important to first note that the people paying the price for this conflict are the people least responsible for it, and it is the children of Yemen. In this three-hour debate, 18 children will have died. Imagine them lined up in front of this green bench. How many more? The children dying in Yemen could sadly fill this chamber in no time at all.”

When Labour’s shadow Foreign Minister Emily Thornberry questioned whether British arms had been used to kill civilians in Yemen, Burt admitted that “he could not answer” Thornberry’s question and claimed, “there was no feasible way of determining if British ordinance was used by Saudi Arabia.”

The U.S., U.K., and some European nations have provided military and intelligence support to the Saudi-led Yemeni war against Houthi rebels since its beginnings in 2015. As per U.K. government figures, since the start of the war in 2015, the country has licensed more than US$6.2 billion in arms, including aircraft, helicopters, drones, bombs, and missiles.

The war has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 Yemenis since its inception, and displaced more than 85,000 people this year alone, graduating into the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis” according to the United Nations.

Spain, earlier this month, canceled arms sales to Saudi Arabia citing its concern for the loss of Yemeni civilian lives. They also plan to return the US$10.6 million paid by Riyadh to the previous administration for the arms deal. Germany which sold US$550 million worth of arms to Saudi Arabia only in the third fiscal quarter of 2017, canceled arms sales in January.

Spain and Germany joined other European nations which are criticizing the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Nonetheless, the U.S. remains a strong supporter of Saudi Arabia, approving US$1 billion worth of arms sales to the country in March despite the continuing atrocities. 

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