British arms sales to Saudi Arabia face parliamentary scrutiny

© Faisal Al Nasser
British arms sales to Saudi Arabia will face a parliamentary inquiry after concerns were raised about the role of UK-made weapons in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

The powerful cross-party committee on arms exports controls will also examine Britain’s arms sales to other Gulf countries.

The committee will look at the government’s expenditure, administration and policy on strategic exports, specifically the licensing of arms exports and other controlled goods.

The British government has been criticized for selling arms and providing military support to the Saudi-led coalition in its war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) says no British military personnel are taking part in direct operations, but are merely helping to train Saudis and make sure they comply with international law.

The government committee, which has taken months to be established since the general election, will attempt to establish what role British-made arms are playing in the Yemen conflict.

Conservative MP Chris White, who chairs the committee, said: “The defense and security industry is one of the UK’s most important exporters. However, it is vital that its financial success does not come at a cost to the nation’s strategic interests.

We have launched this inquiry to understand what role UK-made arms are playing in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Have the criteria set by the government for granting arms export licenses in the region been respected, and what should be the consequences if they have not?

He said the committee could also look at the role of the Department for International Development (DfID) in sanctioning weapons contracts after it emerged the department was not consulted on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said he welcomed the new inquiry.

We welcome the announcement of an investigation, but these arms sales should never have been allowed in the first place,” said Smith.

It is one of the most repressive regimes in the world and has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe on Yemen, yet it has enjoyed uncritical political and military support from the UK.

If UK arms exports controls mean anything then the government needs to revoke all extant licenses and stop all arms exports.