Liz Truss forced to apologise after Britain flouts Saudi Arabia military sales ban

Posted On: 
17th September 2019

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has apologised after green-lighting military sales to Saudi Arabia, despite a pledge not to allow the export of goods that could be used in the brutal civil war in Yemen.

The International Trade Secretary said she had informed the Court of Appeal of the breaches.
Credit: 
PA

In a letter to MPs, Ms Truss said she had informed the Court of Appeal of "two inadvertent breaches" of a vow by her predecessor Liam Fox not to "grant any new licences for the export of arms or military equipment to Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen".

The UK suspended arms sales to Riyadh earlier this year after the court ruled that ministers had failed to assess whether the weapons could be used against civilians in the long-running Yemeni war.

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But the International Trade Secretary said a license for £435,450-worth of radio parts had been issued for use by Saudi land forces in July, while a licence for a £200 air cooling system for a land force vehicle had also been authorised by her department. 

“I have apologised to the court unreservedly for the error in granting these two licences," Ms Truss told the Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls.

Ms Truss told the group of MPs that a "full investigation" had been launched by officials in her department to find out how the ban had been breached, and said she had taken "immediate steps" to identify whether any other licenses had been breached in spite of the ban. 

But the admission was pounced on by Labour, who said an apology would not "get her off the hook".

Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner said: "The Tories have repeatedly claimed that we have the most robust licensing regime in the world. Now it is clear that they cannot even abide by the rulings of the Court of Appeal. The department has failed to conduct proper assessments and essential information is not being relayed between government departments."

He added: "The people of the United Kingdom do not want to be complicit in fuelling the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the Secretary of State must immediately suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Thousands of people have been killed in this war and it is staggering that the Trade Secretary thinks an apology will get her off the hook.

"Liz Truss must provide a full account of why her department failed so miserably. If she cannot control her department, obey the law and do what is morally right, she should resign."

The United Nations estimates that the conflict in Yemen - which pits its Saudi-backed government against Houthi rebels - has cost more than 7,000 civilian lives and left 80% of its population in need of humanitarian assistance or protection.

Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, which brought the original court case against the Government, said the breaches undermined British claims to have "rigorous and robust" arms export controls.

“The reality is that, no matter how appalling the crisis in Yemen has become, the Government has always been far more concerned with arms company profits than it has with the rights and lives of Yemeni people," he added.