UK government resumes licensing of arms sales to Saudi Arabia

By agency reporter
July 8, 2020

The Government has announced it will resume the granting of new licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the coalition that is involved in the war in Yemen. 

The decision, announced  on 7 July 2020 in a written statement by the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, has been condemned by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). CAAT is considering hte next legal steps.

In June 2019, 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. The Government undertook not to approve any new licences pending a reconsideration process, and was ordered by the Court to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner. This ruling did not stop arms from being transferred under extant licences. In the aftermath of the Court ruling, the Government has admitted multiple breaches of the ban of new licences.

The announcement by Liz Truss means that further licences can be granted. CAAT is considering all legal options to challenge this decision.

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)

In reality the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made 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 (IHL) 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?

"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."

Rosa Curling of Leigh Day Solicitors said: "Our client welcomes the Secretary of State's decision to finally accept the judgement handed down by the Court of Appeal and to agree that any decision concerning licence applications must include an assessment of whether IHL breaches have occurred.

"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 IHL. My client's view is the evidence remains overwhelming that such a risk does in fact exist. We are considering her decision carefully with our client."

* Read the written statement from Liz Truss here

* Campaign Against Arms Trade


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