British MPs denied vote on Saudi arms sales ban, while US senators propose boycott

A man shows damage at a house destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike in Yemen's capital Sanaa © Mohamed al-Sayaghi
As the US prepares to debate the legitimacy of selling arms to Saudi Arabia, British MPs have been denied the right to discuss the UK’s controversial weapons deals with the Gulf kingdom.

US senators are to propose a resolution to boycott the sale of tanks, guns and ammunition to Saudi Arabia over concerns they are fueling an arms race in the region.

In Britain, however, the government has refused to allow MPs a debate or the opportunity to vote on the UK’s multibillion-dollar weapons sales to the Saudis, which critics claim exacerbate the war in Yemen.

Humanitarian groups have condemned Britain’s arms trade with Saudi Arabia. Last month, Oxfam accused the government of becoming one of the most significant violators of the international Arms Trade Treaty.

There are concerns the weapons are being used in Saudi Arabia’s air campaign in Yemen, where is it supporting the Yemeni government in its battle with Shiite Houthi rebels.

The 17-month war has reportedly left more than 3 million people displaced and over 14 million suffering hunger and malnutrition – almost half the country’s population.

In the US, 64 members of the House of Representatives have signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to cancel the sale of Abram tanks to Saudi Arabia.

In the Senate, the movement for a resolution to block the sale is being led by Republicans Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Democrats Chris Murphy and Al Franken.

The Obama Administration has recently offered over a billion dollars in weaponry to Saudi Arabia, and I think it’s in America’s best interest to call a timeout on this sale,” Franken told the Independent.

Paul said: “Selling $1.15 billion (£870 million) in tanks, guns, ammunition, and more to a country with a poor human rights record embroiled in a bitter war is a recipe for disaster and an escalation of an ongoing arms race in the region.”

The British government maintains that each license to sell arms is assessed carefully.

The government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. Each license application is assessed carefully against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria,” a spokesperson told the Independent.

We will not grant a license unless these criteria are met. The government is satisfied that extant licenses are compliant with these criteria.”