Emma Lewell-Buck MP: Arms trade is fuelling the humanitarian crisis

We have long been blighted by a mediocre, unprofessional and inept Cabinet running our country.

Thursday, 19th September 2019, 10:00 am
Updated Thursday, 19th September 2019, 10:00 am
People standing among the rubble.

The Prime Minister is before the Supreme Court to determine whether he has acted lawfully in suspending Parliament. Simultaneously, we learn that International Trade Secretary Liz Truss ‘accidently’ granted arms licences to Saudi Arabia, with the ongoing conflict in Yemen. She didn’t make this error once - she issued two licences and has discovered that Liam Fox, her predecessor, made the same ‘mistake’.

This is a new depth of incompetence, of blatant disregard for the law and for those trapped in this unrelenting civil war.

A court ruling this year suspended the UK’s weapon sales to Saudi Arabia because they could be used to violate international law. Her actions demand more than just her apology - she should resign immediately and face legal scrutiny.

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox and other ministers have yet to apologise or face consequences following findings by Judges in the Court of Appeal that they illegally signed off arms exports without assessing the risk to civilians.

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The war in Yemen began in 2015 between the Saudi- backed, pro-Government forces and the rebel Houthi movement. This beautiful country has been repeatedly bombed, its infrastructure rendered unrecognisable. Children and civilians targeted to such a degree that United Nations inspectors say that these attacks may amount to war crimes. Food, medicine and other aid have been blocked. Over 20million people need assistance. It is the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

I have argued repeatedly in Parliament that the UK Government’s involvement in this war has intensified this conflict. I have asked Secretaries of State and Ministers why they haven’t followed Germany, Norway, Denmark and Finland in ceasing arms sales. Worse still, the Government has acknowledged that they understand the scale of the crisis facing civilians by increasing aid. Aid that is needed because of the arms they are supplying.

Responses range from ‘these are long standing contracts’ and ‘arms sales are very carefully controlled’, to the Prime Minster, as Foreign Secretary, telling me that ‘We have the most scrupulous possible invigilation of whether or not Saudi Arabia ​remains in conformity with international humanitarian law, and our lawyers believe that it is still on this side of the line’.

The focus and cornerstone of all foreign policy should be peace, not justifying selling arms to those involved in conflict. These responses are inkeeping with the Government’s scant regard for humanity. This month they invited Saudi Arabia to the Defence & Security Equipment International Arms Fair in London, the biggest arms fair in Europe. Of the 67 states that were recipients of an official UK government invitation, 19 are in armed conflict and 14 are authoritarian regimes. Clearly sales and industry opportunities take precedence over our fellow human beings.

Through multiple conflicts and the refugee crisis, we are seeing our Government and other world leaders turning their backs on humanity.

The UK’s continued involvement in this war is reprehensible. I will seek to urgently raise this matter when Parliament returns.