Liz Truss's decision to arm Saudi Arabia 'absurd', UK High Court hears

Liz Truss's decision to arm Saudi Arabia 'absurd', UK High Court hears
Former UK prime minister Liz Truss overturned a freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite evidence of civilian deaths in Yemen.
2 min read
01 February, 2023
When she was trade minister in 2020, former UK PM Liz Truss decided to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia [Getty]

A decision by former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia, when she was trade minister in 2020, was branded "absurd", a barrister told the UK High Court on Tuesday.

Ben Jaffey KC, who is representing Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) at the High Court, said Truss displayed a "remarkable lack of curiosity" in considering how air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen had led to civilian deaths before deciding that arms sales to Riyadh could recommence.

CAAT has brought a judicial review to the court regarding the UK government's decision to resume the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia, following a year-long pause sparked by another High Court battle by the lobby group.

"We are back in court today to try and gain some semblance of justice for all the Yemeni people who’ve had their lives devastated by UK bombs," said Emily Apple, CAAT's Media Coordinator.

"Despite the Court of Appeal finding that its decisions on arms sales were 'irrational and therefore unlawful', the government is using this spurious claim that the numerous and repeated bombings of civilians were mere 'isolated incidents', to justify this abhorrent and deadly trade. Evidence heard in court shows that this claim is utter nonsense."

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CAAT highlighted the bombing of the site where a fighter jet was shot down in northern Yemen in February 2020, five months before Truss resumed the sale of weapons to Riyadh, which killed 34 people, including 26 children, who had gathered around the wreckage.

It said that the UK has sold over £23 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, since the country led an Arab coalition to intervene in the Yemen war in March 2015.

Strikes on civilian targets in Yemen - including hospitals, weddings, and funerals - have killed at least 8,983 civilians and left many more injured.

The UK government was told to review weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in 2019, following CAAT's High Court victory that year

In July 2020, the government claimed there had only been "isolated incidents" of breaches of international law by the Saudi-led coalition, something disputed by CAAT, which is planning to present evidence of civilian deaths in Yemen to the court.

"It is clear that the government cares more about lining the pockets of arms dealers [than] the lives of Yemeni people, and we will continue challenging this unlawful and immoral trade in every way we can," Apple added.

The case is being heard at the UK's court from Tuesday to Thursday, although a verdict is only expected later.