UK apologises for 'accidentally' selling weapon parts to Saudi Arabia

UK apologises for 'accidentally' selling weapon parts to Saudi Arabia
A court ruling earlier this year barred the UK government from selling arms to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen.
2 min read
17 September, 2019
The sales were made 'in error', Liz Truss said [Getty]
The UK has apologised for selling licences for military equipment to Saudi Arabia in contravention of a court ruling banning arms sales to the kingdom that could be used in the war on Yemen.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss admitted that the two licences had been granted for equipment that could be used in Yemen, but claimed the sales had been made "in error", according to British media.

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.

In a letter on Monday to the chair of the committees on arms export controls, Truss wrote that she had apologised to the court for "inadvertently" breaching the ruling.

"The Government Legal Department has today informed the Court of Appeal of two inadvertent breaches," she wrote.

"I have apologised to the Court unreservedly for the error in granting these two licences."

The first licence was for a £200 ($248) air cooler to be incorporated in a light armoured vehicle used by the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF).

It was initially approved on the basis the RSLF were not operating in Yemen, but the foreign office was later informed RSLF troops were present in the war-torn country, Truss said.

The information was not immediately passed on to the Department for International Trade as the Foreign Office was not aware a licence had already been granted.

A licence was also granted for 260 items of various radio spares, worth about £435,450 ($540,498), for the RSLP, she said.

"Our current understanding is that 180 items have been shipped, with a value of £261,450 ($324,522), leaving 80 items licensed but unshipped with a value of £174,000 ($215,932)," Truss added.

The minister's department has also called for an investigation into the "inadvertent" sales and the possibility of others.

Truss' opposition counterpart Barry Gardner has called for the minister to resign if she "cannot control her department, obey the law and do what is morally right".

"Thousands of people have been killed in this war and it is staggering that the trade secretary thinks an apology will get her off the hook," he said.