Emma Lewell-Buck: South Shields MP calling for an end to arms sales

The terrible conflict in Yemen continues unabated.The country has been devastated by a civil war since 2015, the loss of life now stands at an estimated 233,000, including 138,000 children.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 11 July, 2019, 16:00

In the first six months of this year, the number of cholera cases in the country have outstripped the whole of 2018 with a current 450,000 suspected cases, 2.3million Yemenis are displaced, and hundreds of thousands stand on the brink of famine. The United Nations have described the situation as “humanity’s biggest preventable disaster”.

Yemen may seem far removed from the politics of our country, but it is our Tory Government, that continues to arm Saudi Arabia who are engaged in this war. Sales to the tune of £4.7billion since the start of the civil war, sales which the UK Court of Appeal recently ruled unlawful.

In June a legal challenge by the Campaign Against Arms Trade argued that a previous decision to allow continued sales was unlawful and that arms might be used in violation of international humanitarian law. The judgement was that licences should be reviewed but not immediately suspended.

Although this decision has led to a temporary halting pending a review, the Government have applied for a stay of judgement, which many fear could soon see the resumption of business as usual.

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The court also found that Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Liam Fox and other key Ministers had illegally signed off Saudi arms sales without assessing the risk to civilians. Exacerbating conflict by contributing arms is totally reprehensible, that the two men vying to be the next Prime Minister (Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt) have both got a history of doing so shows it is likely nothing will change.

To many it is an incomprehensible approach to foreign policy that whilst engaging in arms sales the Government is giving vast amounts to humanitarian relief, recently announcing an additional £200million to help ease the malnutrition crisis taking the amount of aid the UK has committed to Yemen since the start of the war to £770million.

I have raised this issue on several occasions and when he was Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson told me that “we have the most scrupulous possible invigilation of whether or not Saudi Arabia ​remains in conformity with international humanitarian law”. Yet here we are one year later, and the Court has found that the Government “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”.

Foreign policy should be guided by the values of peace, universal rights and international law, there needs to be an end to this terrible, unrelenting conflict. Germany, Norway, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Italy have all ceased or restricted arms sales to Saudi Arabia.