Commons committees at odds over suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Posted On: 
15th September 2016

MPs have produced conflicting reports on whether the UK should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia. 

A Saudi-led coalition has intervened in the conflict in Yemen
Credit: 
PA Images

The Foreign Affairs Committee has stopped short of calling for a moratorium but a joint statement from the Business and International Development committees argues the Government should block exports until an independent inquiry is completed.

The Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) had been investigating widespread reports that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen.

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CAEC comprises members from four select committees – business, foreign affairs, international development and defence.

Its findings need to be approved by each individual committee, which explains the diverging conclusions today.

The Government has so far rejected the prospect of halting arms sales, arguing that they “key test” of a “clear risk” that UK exports could be used to carry out such breaches has not been met.

But the BIS and International Development committees said they had heard evidence of “clear violations” of humanitarian law.  

“The arms export licensing system has not worked in the case of Yemen,” they concluded.

“The UK must suspend licenses for arms exports to Saudi Arabia pending the results of an independent, United Nations-led inquiry into reports of violations of International Humanitarian Law.

“In addition, the UK Government should investigate whether any licences so far issued have led to the transfer of weapons which have been used in breach of IHL.

“This suspension must remain in place until the UN-led inquiry provide evidence that the risk of such exports being used in the commission of serious violations of IHL has subsided.”

Chris White, who chairs the CAEC and is a member of the BIS committee, said the UK was “not showing equal determination” in making sure that arms controls were respected.  

The Foreign Affairs Committee, meanwhile, says it should fall to British courts to decide whether the terms of the export licences had been breached – something that will happen in a forthcoming judicial review brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

“Given that the UK has a long history of defence exports to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, and considering the evidence we have heard, it is possible that alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK,” the committee said. 

Crispin Blunt, the chairman of the FAC, was said to be seeking to amend the CAEC report so that it did not call for a suspension of sales. 

Downing Street defended the UK's rules for arms exports. 

“We’ll take a good look at them and obviously we’ll respond to what is contained in those reports in due course," the Prime Minister's spokesman said.

"But of course I’d reiterate that the UK takes its arms export responsibilities incredibly seriously and we’re satisfied that we operate one of the most robust arms export control regimes that there is in the world.

“We are satisfied that our arms export regime is among the most robust there is in the world. Clearly the situation is kept under constant review.”