UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia under threat as court ruling on terrorism looms

UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia under threat as court ruling on terrorism looms
2 min read
09 July, 2017
A high court assessing the legality of Britain's arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while the kingdom wages war in Yemen, is due to give its verdict on Monday.
Saudi Arabia is the UK's largest military arms client [Getty]

Britain could be forced to suspend the sale of billions of dollars worth of military arms to Saudi Arabia on Monday, as the high court prepares to give its final verdict on the high-profile legal case.

Campaigners, who maintain that Britain’s military export to the kingdom are in violation of the UK and EU legislation, are eagerly awaiting the verdict of the judicial review launched in February.

“We believe that the decision taken by the secretary of state to continue to grant new licences for the sale of arms to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is unlawful,” Rosa Curling from the law firm Leigh Day, which is representing Campaign Against the Arms Trade, said.

"There is increasingly evidence being unearthed that the Saudi-led coalition has committed serious breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen,” Curling added.

A key piece of evidence presented to the court quotes the ECO head saying that the Ministry of Defence was unable to identify a "valid military target" for each of the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes.

Among some of this weaponry were British-made cluster bombs which Saudi Arabia admitted to using in December 2016. Britain is a member of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, banning their use.

The UK government, which maintains that there was "no clear risk" of British weaponry being used in human rights violations, has licensed around £4.1 billion ($5.3bn) of weapons to the Middle East since the election in May 2015. 

Some £3.3 billion (USD 4.25 bln) of which were deals signed with Saudi Arabia alone, as the kingdom continues a brutal war on Houthi rebels in Yemen, where 10,000 civililans have been killed.

"These arms sales do not make any of us any safer," said Andrew Smith, a spokesperson for CAAT.

"They fuel war and conflict by providing political and military support for some of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in the world."

This comes as pressure mounts on the government, which has been accused of burying a state-funded report into the funding of terrorism in the UK that is said to be critical of Saudi Arabia.

Speaking on the report that was given to Downing Street last year, opposition party leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “If Theresa May is serious about cutting off financial and ideological support for terrorism, she should publish the suppressed report on foreign funding of UK-based extremism and have difficult conversations with Saudi Arabia, not hug Saudi and allied Gulf states even closer.”