UK admits to breaking law again with arms sales to Saudi Arabia

UK admits to breaking law again with arms sales to Saudi Arabia
The Campaign Against Arms Trade has called for the government to give 'no more excuses' over illegal arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
3 min read
26 September, 2019
Opposition politicians have called on the trade secretary to resign [Getty]

British International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has admitted for the second time this month to selling arms components to Saudi Arabia despite a court order barring sales earlier this year.

Truss earlier this month apologised for breaching the law with sales of military equipment licenses to the controversial kingdom "made in error". 

A UK court ruled in June that it was illegal for the government to license weapons exports to Saudi Arabia without first assessing whether there was an "historic pattern of breaches of international humanitarian law" by the Saudi-led coalition that has fought Yemen's Houthi rebels since 2015.

Thousands of civilians have been killed by coalition bombing, and the conflict has left millions at risk of starvation.

The trade secretary told Parliament on Thursday that the government had breached the court order for a third time.

The sale was detected by civil servants in Truss' department, which launched an inquiry after the secretary's earlier revelation.
The government had authorised a contract to repair equipment used by the Saudi military to detect improvised explosive devices.

The law bars the government from allowing the sale of any military equipment that is suspected to be used in Yemen.

Truss added that the export license had not yet been used and has now been revoked, offering an "unreserved apology" for the breach.

But she added that the government had also broken additional decrees to bar the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia's coalition partners in Yemen.

Jordan was in August granted a license for fuel gauges for F-16 jets, which was not used and has since been revoked, Truss said. 

Opposition politicians have called for Truss to resign over the breaches.

"The apology is welcome but the narrative is shameful," Labour MP Keith Vaz said, according to The Guardian. "Last week a bomb fell on a mosque and on a family eating their dinner. What do they put on the death certificates? Is it death by administrative error?"

Shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner slammed the government, claiming the sales were made on purpose.

"The government did know, they just didn't tell the secretary of state's department," he said. "Which department knew?"

The UK has licensed around £5 billion ($6.2 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the war in Yemen began in 2015.

"We are always being told how rigorous and robust arms export controls supposedly are, but this shows that nothing could be further from the truth. The system is clearly broken and unfit for purpose," Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade said in a statement.

"Even if it was in error, it is clear that the Government can not be trusted to uphold the ruling of the Court of Appeal. There can be no more excuses."
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