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UK arms exports to Saudis to continue amid record missile sales

The UK saw its largest quarterly increase in arms export to Saudi Arabia since the Kingdom began their bombing campaign in Yemen, official figures reveal.

And last night, in a debate on Yemen in parliament, the government showed no sign of aligning with President Biden’s commitment, announced last week, to stop arming Saudi Arabia’s offensive actions in Yemen.

Foreign Office Minister, James Cleverley, said: “The decisions the US takes on matters of arms sales are decisions for the US. The UK takes its own arms export responsibilities very seriously, and we continue to assess all arms export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria.”

The latest figures released this morning (Feb 9) revealed the total value of the 52 export licenses issued to Saudi Arabia, between July-September 2020, was £1.394bn. Although the figure could be much higher as one ‘open-licence’, was issued, the value of which is not disclosed.

The bulk of these sales, £1.355bn, were in the ML4 category, meaning bombs, missiles and rockets. This brings the total arms licensed since March 2015 to £6.694bn.

Again, this is only a partial figure as many licences allow for the export of unlimited value of military items. Reports last year showed that BAE Systems sold at least £15bn of goods to the Saudis since 2015.

Licencing resumed in July 2020 after a one-year suspension imposed by the UK Court of Appeal which ordered a review of the licensing process to see if Saudi use of UK arms in the Yemen conflict contravened International Humanitarian law.

Before the release of the new figures, an urgent question in parliament was brought by Tobias Ellwood MP, Chair of the Defence Select Committee. He urged the government “to align itself fully with its closest security ally and end similar arms exports connected to the war … The US reset is very much to be welcomed and poses our first big test as to what global Britain means in practice.”

Saudi Arabia represented 40% of the volume of UK arms exports between 2010 and 2019.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, supported by the UK and US militaries, appear to be responsible for 67% of reported civilian casualties in the war in Yemen, and are the cause of the majority of explosive violence against children. Since the conflict began, 1,372 children have been killed and 916 injured by airstrikes.