UK suspends new Saudi arms licences linked to Yemen conflict

Demonstrators from the Britain-based Campaign Against Arms Trade reacting to yesterday's judgment by Britain's Court of Appeal over a legal case involving the export of arms to Saudi Arabia. The British High Court had ruled in July 2017 that the arms
Demonstrators from the Britain-based Campaign Against Arms Trade reacting to yesterday's judgment by Britain's Court of Appeal over a legal case involving the export of arms to Saudi Arabia. The British High Court had ruled in July 2017 that the arms exports were "lawful". Yesterday, the Court of Appeal reversed that decision.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • The British government said yesterday it would suspend issuing new Saudi licences for the sale of arms that might be used in the Gulf kingdom's bombing campaign in Yemen.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox announced the decision in Parliament after a British court ordered the government to "reconsider" the sales because of their humanitarian impact.

"We disagree with the judgment and will seek permission to appeal," Mr Fox said.

"While we do this, we will not grant any new licences to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, which might be used in the conflict in Yemen."

Britain's Court of Appeal had earlier yesterday ruled that the government broke the law by failing to properly assess whether the arms it sells to Riyadh violated its commitment to human rights.

Judge Terence Etherton said the British government "must reconsider the matter" and weigh up future risks.

Yesterday's ruling was part of a long-running court battle that the Britain-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (Caat) non-profit body first launched against the British government in December 2015.

 
 
 

The British High Court had ruled in July 2017 that the arms exports were "lawful". The Court of Appeal reversed that decision yesterday.

Government figures analysed by Caat show that Britain has licensed nearly £5 billion (S$8.6 billion) in weapons to the kingdom since the Saudi-led campaign began in 2015.

The London court judge stressed that yesterday's decision "does not mean that licences to export arms to Saudi Arabia must immediately be suspended".

Mr Fox made no references to existing arms sales contracts and did not imply that all exports to Britain's traditional Middle East ally would halt.

But Caat said its "historic" victory should force the government to suspend all military equipment sales.

The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and triggered what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2019, with the headline 'UK suspends new Saudi arms licences linked to Yemen conflict'. Print Edition | Subscribe