New report shows over £2.8bn UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia

By agency reporter
April 20, 2016

The latest official government figures, collated by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), reveal that the UK approved £2.8 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia since the bombing of Yemen began.

The revelations are included in A Shameful Relationship: UK Complicity In Saudi State Violence, a new report written by David Wearing, researcher on UK-Saudi-Gulf relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and published by CAAT. The report focuses on the extent and nature of the arms trade between the UK and Saudi Arabia.

The licences cover equipment purchased to be used in the conflict in Yemen including guided bombs and components for combat aircraft and licences for military communication equipment. There were 122 licences in total from 26 March to the end of 2015. The Saudi government is the world’s biggest buyer of UK arms.

In Q4 2015, the government licensed over £7.2 million of military licences, including £4.3 million worth of ML4 licences (grenades, bombs, missiles and countermeasures). These were accompanied by eight open individual export licences, including components for combat aircraft, allowing the Saudi Air Force to buy unlimited components without applying for separate licences.

These were issued despite accusations from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders and others that the air strikes could be violating international humanitarian law.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "Almost 6000 people have been killed in the Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen. UK-supplied combat aircraft and bombs have been central to the destruction and yet the arms sales have continued, and so has the government’s uncritical support of the Saudi regime."

The weapon categories included for arms exports since the bombing of Yemen began include approximately:

  • - £1.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • - £1.1 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
  • - £430,000 worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks)

Unfortunately, as the report makes clear, there is nothing new in UK support for the Saudi regime. For decades, the UK government has directly promoted arms sales to Saudi Arabia, giving political and military support to one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. CAAT is calling for an end to all arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

The report's author David Wearing said: "Successive governments of all political colours have prioritised arms sales over human rights. The toxic UK-Saudi alliance has boosted the Saudi regime and lined the pockets of arms companies, but has had devastating consequences for the people of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. For the sake of those people, the UK government must finally stop arming and empowering the brutal Saudi monarchy."

The UK has continued to support Saudi air strikes in Yemen and provide arms despite overwhelming evidence of repeated breaches of international humanitarian law.

Last month, CAAT and their lawyers at Leigh Day submitted a claim for a Judicial Review into the arms sales. The claim calls on the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen while it holds a full review into whether the exports are compatible with UK and EU legislation. (

* Read the report A Shameful Relationship: UK Complicity In Saudi State Violence here



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