Saudi arms sales 'maintain British influence in Yemen'

Saudi arms sales 'maintain British influence in Yemen'
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson claims that without British arms sales to the kingdom, the UK's influence in Yemen's conflict would end swiftly.
2 min read
27 October, 2016
Boris Johnson has consistently defended arms sales to Saudi Arabia [AFP]
Other countries would "happily supply arms" to Saudi Arabia if the UK were to cease doing so, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a parliamentary debate on Wednesday.

Johnson added that without British arms sales to the kingdom, the UK's influence in Yemen's conflict would end swiftly.

"To those who say, as apparently they now do in this motion, that we should simply disregard those legal procedures, be in no doubt that we would be vacating a space that would rapidly be filled by other Western countries who would happily supply arms with nothing like the same compunctions or criteria or respect for humanitarian law," Johnson said in response to a motion that called for a cessation of arms sales while a proposed UN-led investigation into alleged war crimes takes place.

"And more importantly, we would at a stroke eliminate this country's positive ability to exercise our moderating, diplomatic and political influence on a crisis where there are massive UK interests at stake," Johnson added.

Contrary to the motion, the foreign secretary said that Saudi Arabia should be allowed to conduct its own investigation first.

"The Saudi government has approached this matter with great seriousness, and the seriousness it deserves,” he said.

Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood, who is also the UK's Minister for Middle East and North Africa, also came under fire for his explanation of the Saudi coalition bombing of a funeral, which killed more than 140 people.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry slammed the attack as a "deliberate mistake" and accused the UK government of hypocrisy over different conflicts in the Middle East.

"When we say one thing about Russia and Aleppo but we say another thing about Riyadh and Yemen, what the rest of the world hears is hypocrisy and double standards," Thornberry said, referring to the UK's significantly tougher line on Syria's war.

Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of Arab nations in Yemen's conflict since 2015, with the aim of reinstating the country's president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. 

During the first year of this intervention, Britain licensed over £3 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The war has drawn huge international condemnation, with the Saudi coalition's actions having further devastated the Middle East's poorest nation.

More than half of Yemen’s 22 million population are currently living at emergency levels of food insecurity and need urgent relief – especially in remote rural areas that are often overlooked by humanitarian schemes.