The economy of war: UK issues new licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia

CAAT considering legal steps to stop civilians' massacre in Yemen

London, 7 July 2020 - The decision announced by the British Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, makes clear what 'global Britain' actually means to the Tory led government: enhancing its influence through warfare industry and injecting in a disrupted economy fresh cash from the arm sales, especially form Middle East partners such as Saudi Arabia.

London based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) challenged the government last June with an historical win establishing the UK can't sale weapons to the Saudis to the extent this violates International Humanitarian Law. Now the government is disregarding the verdict. 

The humanitarian organisation reports that since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones), £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures), highlighting that figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the secretive Open Licence system.

UK Government will resume the granting of new licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the coalition that is bombing Yemen. CAAT is considering challenge to government decision to resume sales after court victory last June 2019.  

From today 'licences to kill' will be issued again by the UK government, regardless the verdict issued last June, when the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law. Union Jack branded weapons have been used in military operation in Yemen against civilians deliberately killing people even while they were attending funerals. 

Today's announcement is therefore a backtrack as after that verdict the government undertook not to approve any new licences pending a reconsideration process and was also ordered by the Court to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner.

"This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision - said Andrew Smith, spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade - The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing. We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it. The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of International humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places. The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the Government to stop supplying the weaponry? "

"Any decision concerning licence applications must include an assessment of whether IHL breaches have occurred - said Leigh Day solicitor Rosa Curling who led the win over the government last June - But CAAT is also deeply alarmed by the decision that, despite her new procedure, the Secretary of State has decided licences can continue to be granted and that there is no clear risk the Saudi led coalition in Yemen might use such licensed, military equipment in breach of International Humanitarian Law. My client's (CAAT) view is the evidence remains overwhelming that such a risk does in fact exist. We are considering her decision carefully."

Right yesterday the British Foreign Office announced a new sanctioning system targeting individuals aimed at preventing impact on trade relations with countries such as Saudi Arabia: the Magnitsky Act-style sanctions killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (intelligence officials of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) and allow at the same time Britain to freely back mass killings in Yemen by the Saudis by selling them weapons.  

Andrew Smith found the right words for this: "This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world."

Both Labour and Lib Dems opposition strongly criticised the decision to not respect the verdict imposing the British government to stop issuing new licences.

“Even by this Government’s standards, their decision to resume the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen is morally indefensible, justified on the basis that the air strikes that have killed thousands of innocent men, women and children over the past five years somehow do not represent a ‘pattern of non-compliance’ with international law. said Labour’s Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry, - she also stressed the mala fide of "announcing this decision the very day after 20 Saudi officials were rightly placed on the Foreign Office’s Magnitsky sanctions list". 

"The situation in Yemen is horrific, with Saudi Arabia persistently violating human rights and the rule of law. Arms sales to the regime should be banned until further notice- said Lib Dem Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael - Last year the Conservative Government breached the Court of Appeal ruling on the licensing of arms for use in Yemen and now they are trying to make out as though Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses are a one off" 

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