Tories isolated as progressive parties pledge end to Saudi war trade

Nathanael Williams

As General Election approaches Tories double down on Saudi support to alarm of activists 

THE TORY PARTY was left isolated after all other UK, Scottish and Welsh political parties came out confirming that they would stop sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia after the General Election on June 8.

Saudi Arabia considered a strategic ally in the Middle East by the UK Government against terrorism and the expansion of Iranian influence is seen by human rights organisations are one of the leading human rights abusers and blockers of women’s rights.

Weapons sold to Saudi Arabia by the UK have been used to bomb Yemen in a conflict which has seen widespread famine, child deaths and infrastructural destruction.

Security analysts have also questioned the countries commitment to the fight against extremism given the country’s hardline religious practices and legal code which critics say is similar to the infamous group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis).

The SNP, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens on both sides of the border have confirmed to CommonSpace that after the election they would seek to stop sales of billions of pounds worth of weapons to the Saudi kingdom despite the Tory UK Government holding firm to its commitment.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The UK public is rightly opposed to the UK’s unbending and uncritical political and military support for the Saudi regime. It has one of the most brutal and repressive human rights records in the world. UK arms have been central to its terrible bombardment of Yemen.

“Arms sales and the UK’s long history of support for human rights abusers have not been election issues in the past – primarily because the main parties pledged to maintain them. If politicians want to do what is in the interest of people in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, they must commit to ending the arms sales and the unequivocal political support that has gone with it.”

Since March 2015, the UK has licensed over £3.3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since it began bombing Yemen. This included £2.2bn worth of aircraft, helicopters, drones, £1.1bn worth of grenades, bombs and missiles and £430,000 worth of armoured vehicles and tanks. Even though the sale of these items have gone ahead 62 per cent of UK adults oppose arms exports to Saudi Arabia, with only 11 per cent supporting them according to a recent poll by Opinium.

“The UK public is rightly opposed to the UK’s unbending and uncritical political and military support for the Saudi regime.” Andrew Smith

The United Nations’ humanitarian aid official in Yemen has said that the civilian death toll in the nearly two-year conflict has reached 10,000, with 40,000 others wounded.

The SNP represented by Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh have campaigned for the past two years to get the UK to stop all sales to the kingdom. Sheikh, the party’s international trade spokeswoman, described the UK Government’s seeming indifference to the crisis in Yemen and issues of arms sales as ”truly sickening”.

Yesterday the Labour party’s national executive committee (NEC) confirmed its policy of sticking to NATO spending obligations but ending sales to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to CommonSpace, a LibDem spokesperson went on the record confirming a full review of Saudi sale calling all military cooperation including training of Saudi pilots and the bombing of Yemen civilians “shameful”.

“Arms sales and the UK’s long history of support for human rights abusers have not been election issues in the past.” Andrew Smith

In response, the UK defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: ”Saudi Arabia is being attacked by Houthi rebels across its Southern border with Yemen. It’s had its towns and villages shelled by the Houthis. It is fully entitled to defend itself and it’s fully entitled to call on its friends in so doing. They are a key partner of ours — an enormously important trading partner, a commercial partner, but also a defence partner.”

In December 2016, the UK Government confirmed that British-made cluster bombs, manufactured before the UN’s Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted in 2008, have been used by Saudi Arabian forces in the current Yemen conflict. These munitions rule by international bodies to be uniquley “cruel and amoral” have been illegal since the 2008 Dublin convention.

Picture courtesy of CAAT

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