Saudi FM to meet British MPs, make case for continued arms exports despite war crime claims

© Fayez Nureldine
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir will meet with British MPs on Wednesday in a bid to convince them not to ban UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia over concerns the Gulf kingdom is committing war crimes in Yemen.

Al-Jubeir’s decision to take the unusual step of briefing MPs in person comes days after Prime Minister Theresa May discussed human rights concerns with Saudi diplomats at the G20 summit in China.

The briefing will take place hours before the Select Committee on the Control of Arms Exports meets to debate whether to call for a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

MPs are under mounting pressure to end Britain’s arms exports to the Middle Eastern country after the UN claimed UK-made weapons are being used in attacks on civilian targets in Yemen, including hospitals and markets.

The UK government appears to be split over how to address the issue. According to the Independent, May raised human rights issues with Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of the G20 last weekend.

Her intervention runs counter to that of UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson however, who told Parliament on Monday that arms sales to Saudi Arabia could continue because there is no conclusive evidence that international humanitarian law has been breached. 

Meanwhile, Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood was forced to apologize to MPs for giving inaccurate answers concerning the Yemen conflict.

Ministers erroneously informed Parliament that the Foreign Office had assessed Saudi Arabia was not breaching international humanitarian law in Yemen. In reality, no such assessment had taken place.

Ellwood was brought to the Commons on Monday by Speaker John Bercow to clarify the government’s position on Saudi Arabia.

He told MPs the Foreign Office would not assess individual incidents by the Saudi military, but would instead “take an overall view of the approach and attitude by Saudi Arabia to international humanitarian law.”

We are not acting to determine whether a sovereign state has or has not acted in the breach of [international humanitarian law] but instead … we are acting to make an overall judgment.

Ellwood sought to defend Saudi Arabia’s belated response to international criticism over the way it has conducted its military intervention.

It was new territory for Saudi Arabia and a conservative nation was not used to such exposure.”

Labour MP Stephen Doughty, a member of the Arms Controls Committee, described the government’s position of arms exports to Saudi Arabia as contradictory.

Ministers continue to be all over the place on whether violations of international humanitarian law have occurred in Yemen in light of Saudi Arabia admitting serious mistakes last month and that hospitals and World Food Programme convoys had been hit,” he said.

It is simply not good enough for ministers to rely on Saudi assurances on such serious matters where civilians have been targeted.