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UK is right to raise humanitarian concerns but Saudi visit is a chance to reiterate support for Arab coalition in Yemen

UK is right to raise humanitarian concerns but Saudi visit is a chance to reiterate support for Arab coalition in Yemen

Graham Jones

5 min read

Labour MP Graham Jones writes ahead of the visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and questions those people protesting over the legality of British defence sales to Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, who arrives in the UK on Wednesday, is overseeing an ambitious programme of social and economic reform across the Kingdom. He has also prioritised tackling extremism in his own country and across the wider region. His visit to London provides us with an opportunity to make clear that these are missions which we fully support: a modernised Saudi Arabia is in our interests.

The Labour leadership needs to revisit its approach on this. Corbyn has been a bridge builder with all sorts of rogue elements and he should be a bridge builder with Saudi, not an isolationist bridge burner.

What about the war in Yemen, you may ask?

Those who plan to line the streets of Whitehall to protest his visit will much of their fury on the war in Yemen. The war is unethical they argue. They have repeatedly called for Britain to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia. I find it impossible to agree with them.

No one would argue that the war, which began in 2015, has gone to plan. There have been mistakes in the way the war has been fought, sometimes with tragic consequences. It is only right that these mistakes are investigated. Saudi ministers in Parliament admit their concerns.

In response to these allegations surrounding the war, the UK has conducted its own investigations. All three branches of our Government have gone to great lengths to determine whether our defence industry should continue its dealings with Saudi Arabia. The Government has examined the evidence available to them, Parliament has voted on the matter, and the High Court has ruled on the issue, following a judicial review brought by campaigners who oppose the war. All of these processes examined the legality of British defence sales to Saudi Arabia: not one of them has concluded that sales should be suspended. 

Ignoring the rulings made in the High Court, the decision of the Government and the will of Parliament, the campaigners have now resorted to different tactics. Some have broken into BAE factories; others have launched a campaign aimed at disrupting the Crown Prince’s visit. 

To my mind there is nothing ethical about their position. They will not be satisfied until we see the total disengagement of the UK government in its relations with Saudi Arabia. They want us to stand aside even if that means watching the Houthis take over the whole of Yemen.

It is worth remembering that this is not a war against the Yemeni people as it is sometimes portrayed. This is a war in support of the Yemeni people, against the Houthis (The Partisans of God), a brutal, extremist rebel force, backed, trained and supplied by Hezbollah and Iran. It should not surprise us that those protesting the visit are often the same people who support Bashar Assad in Syria, and sympathise with Hezbollah and Iran.
One should not forget the Houthi slogan: "Death to America, Death to Israel, a curse on the Jews, victory for Islam". This hateful slogan is openly promoted at every opportunity by the Houthis and is one the West should take very seriously. Without the Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, that Houthi slogan could be ringing out across the whole of Yemen today.

Houthi incursions and rocket attacks date back to at least 2009 (six years before the current war started). More recently the Houthis have fired rockets at the Saudi capital of Riyadh. They have targeted missiles at Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. They claim to have launched an attack on a nuclear plant in the United Arab Emirates; an attack which if carried out successfully would be tantamount to nuclear terrorism.

The UN Panel of Experts report released last month was clear: many of the Houthi’s missiles and much of their military equipment is of Iranian origin. This puts Iran in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2216. 

No government in the world would accept a rebel force in a neighbouring country attacking its citizens and its territory. Why should we expect Saudi, and its allies, to be any different? Why should we ask Saudi Arabia to accept that Iran is building another Hezbollah on their border? For Saudi Arabia this is not a war of choice, it is a matter of national self-defence. 

It is regrettable that the Houthis have refused all peace talks and have committed themselves to armed violence and killing. 

Clearly the UK (and the world) wants to see a strong, united Yemen capable of fighting terrorism and free from Iranian interference. It is quite right that we should be urging Saudi Arabia to improve the humanitarian situation within Yemen as I have done in the House of Commons, but also to use the Crown Prince’s visit as an opportunity for us to reiterate our support for the Arab League, the GCC, the UN, the Arab coalition in support of the legitimate Yemeni government.

Graham Jones MP is the Labour MP for Hyndburn and Chair of the Committee on Arms Export Controls

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