Britain to send £100mn in aid to war-torn Yemen... while selling £3bn in arms to Saudis

Workers and journalists inspect damage at the Alsonidar Group's water pumps and pipes factory one day after it was hit for the second time by Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen September 22, 2016 © Khaled Abdullah
Britain is to increase spending on humanitarian aid to war-torn Yemen while at the same time signing off multibillion-pound arms deals to Saudi Arabia, which stands accused of war crimes.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel announced Britain will send an additional £37 million (US$48 million) in aid to Yemen this year, bringing the total package to £100 million.

It comes as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faces calls from two senior MPs to support an independent investigation into whether war crimes have been committed in the Yemen conflict.

Johnson has refused to block UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the government has rejected calls for a vote in Parliament on the matter.

The foreign secretary maintains there is no evidence international law has been violated in the Yemen conflict, where Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of nations fighting Houthi rebels since March last year.

Patel defended the UK’s weapons exports to Saudi Arabia – which totaled £3 billion last year – saying the government has a “robust policy and position” on arms controls.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, Patel said: “People are suffering. There’s no water or clean sanitation, there is a public health crisis, children are dying, there is a need for food and shelter.”

She added that 19 million people lack access to water or sanitation, while 80 percent of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The gesture was quickly criticized by Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamor, who said Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia “negate” development work in the region.

She called on the government to suspend arms sales to Riyadh until a full investigation has been carried out.

Her call has been echoed by two senior MPs who have urged Johnson to “to seize this opportunity and support the establishment of an international, independent mechanism under the auspices of the UN.

Chris White, chairman of the Committees on Arms Export Controls, and International Development Committee Chair Stephen Twigg expressed hope an inquiry will “deter future violations of international humanitarian law as well as providing independent and conclusive evidence in relation to allegations that have been levelled at both sides of the conflict.

The MPs say an inquiry is needed because of the staggering death toll in the conflict. Some 7,000 people are thought to have died, 1,100 of them children.